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TPD mental health pilot program on City Commission agenda

Posted at 6:13 PM, Nov 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-05 18:13:57-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — A change could come to how law enforcement and first responders answer mental health calls in Tallahassee.

That change falls into the hands of the city commissioner.

If approved, a pilot program would create a three-person team responsible for answering non-violent mental health calls.

Mental health and law enforcement are the latest focus for Tallahassee's city commission.

"It gives us an opportunity to address behavioral health crises, mental health crises," said Abena Sackey Ojetayo, the director of Housing & Community Resilience for the City of Tallahassee. "Even though it might be at an individual level, it could spill over into the neighborhood, your neighbors, the rest of the community."

The new initiative pairs mental health experts from the Apalachee Center with an officer and a paramedic, all being responsible for answering those mental health calls.

"The way Tallahassee views resiliency is how we go through and bounce back from any shocks or disruptions," Ojetayo said.

Calls for change over the summer sparked the discussion after nationwide and local officer-involved shootings, such as Tony McDade.

"We tend to criminalize them," said Saskiya Fagan, an activist in Tallahassee. "We don't give them the things that they actually need."

While the team wouldn't be sent to a violent call such as McDade's, Apalachee Center CEO Dr. Jay Reeve believes this is the first step to addressing the parallels between criminal justice and mental health.

"The population that is within the criminal justice system or has contact, there is a predictable portion in there because of their mental health issues or their mental illness," Reeve said. "That's who we want to target and see if we can serve and connect with services."

Commissioners will decide if they want to launch the pilot program at Tuesday's meeting.

If approved, that team would hit the ground by spring.