‘Safer Together’ explores how mentally ill are treated by police

Jacksonville launches Mental Health Offender Program

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The latest in series of workshops by Jacksonville City Council examining community policing, politics, procedures and budgeting explored how law enforcement and the judicial system respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis. Members of the “Safer Together” panel meeting Friday heard from experts and took questions from people to further examine what’s working and what’s not.

Of the 2,466 inmates at the Duval County jail, 119 of them have a known mental illness, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. How people with mental illness are treated during their arrest, and the programs that exist to help them -- were just a few of the many topics discussed during the virtual session between council members and the general public.

The city launched a Mental Health Offender Program one month ago to help repeat offenders with a mental illness. Of the 11 people who have entered the program so far, one had more than 90 previous arrests.

″So when they are arrested the next time, we can get them into this program,” Councilman Ron Salem said. “What it does is offer the ability to go to the Sulzbacher center where we can provide services, housing, meals, medication, job training, and try to turn around their lives.”

″It’s something that’s been long in development and long overdue,” Judge Charlie Cofer said. “It shifts the focus on their individuals who need these services.”

Councilmembers, judges, and law enforcement personnel said they are committed to finding real solutions.

Mental health advocates also talked about the expansion of a co-responder program, which teams up mental health care experts with officers responding to calls for service. The pilot program also proactively seeks out people who appear to be in need and tries to connect them with social services.

“Do you think 40 hours is enough training for you guys considering what you have out the street,” Councilwoman Joyce Morgan asked the JSO representative on the panel, Zone 1 Assistant Chief Adam Penly.

″While it’s 40 hours of crisis intervention training and supplemental health first aid, you learn things as we teach officers to handle domestic violence situations and you defuse those and learn how to talk,” Penly said.

The Safer Together team also talked about JSO’s response-to-resistance policies. When they meet next month, they are scheduled to discuss whether a police citizen’s review board should be created.

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