LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — "Our goal is to leave people in a better situation than the one we found them."
The Leon County Sheriff's Office and the Apalachee Center are teaming up to roll out a new Mental Health Unit to serve people in the community facing trauma and mental health issues.
ABC 27 spoke with Paxton F. Rogers, an LCSO Crisis Intervention Deputy, and Brianna Tebben, a Collaborative Apalachee-LCSO Mental Health Unit Counselor for the latest on this new program.
"They're threatening suicide, they're self-harming, or someone has a family member who has told them they want to hurt themselves, we get a lot of substance use disorder calls."
When someone in need places a 911 or non-emergency call for help, the team assess whether it's a mental health crisis. That's when a new specially-trained deputy steps in. They use their 40 hours of critical intervention training with a focus on mental health disorder backgrounds, trauma triggers, empathy, and de-escalation techniques.
"We got to be able to share and understand what these individuals are actually going through."
After the deputy deems it safe, a Master-Level Counselor jumps in to provide resources like suicide prevention services, medical care, access to homeless shelters, and more. The goal is to provide this, instead of hospitalization or an arrest.
"Intervening in a healthy and safe way, limiting the amount of law enforcement response."
By partnering up, they will have one centralized database to create a better level of care.
Another key thing...
"That is not our last encounter with them we take down all of their information and we enter it into our database so we can follow up so in a couple of days they see us and hear from us."
Deputies drive unmarked cars and wear polo shirts which they say makes them more approachable in these situations.
They say they receive anywhere from three to four calls a day. The mental health unit works in teams of two and is made up of three counselors and 3 deputies in total.
Since this program first rolled out at the end of 2021, they have responded to more than 250 calls.
Both the deputies and counselors say it's critical that they can devote more time to each call to make sure the crisis is under control.
"What's great about this unit is that we can take as much time as we need on the call whereas patrol is kind of limited they have to go to call to call to call, we can take a little more time and assess the situation, provide resources, and counsel people."
The unit provides services to both adults and children, and those facing homelessness in the community.