Fewer arrests, more help for those with mental health issues

Gainesville police team up with mental health program, seeing positive results

By Brittany Muller - Reporter

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A Gainesville police officer and a mental health professional who teamed up last April to respond to calls that might involve mental health issues have seen positive results in their effort to reduce the number of arrests for those with mental health conditions, the police department said.

Officer Shelly Postle and mental health clinician Makenzie Boyer of Meridian Behavior Healthcare handled 434 calls for service from April to November, the Gainesville Police Department said.

"Law enforcement can show up and if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, they only have a couple of options," Boyer said.

But Boyer and Postle, who make up the city's co-responder team, can offer options that law enforcement alone can't.

"I think that our team is so helpful because we provide other options for their assessments and are able to connect people with programs and resources that they need," Boyer said. 

Of the 434 calls they worked, Boyer and Postle were able to divert 92 percent of those contacted from being arrested -- which saved the city and county approximately $222,270, GPD said.

Postle said the sheer call volume was the most surprising thing over the seven-month span.

REPORT: Breakdown of data from Gainesville co-responder team

The co-responder team also conducts follow-ups with individuals who are known to frequently contact the public safety system.

Three-quarters of those contacted by the team were successfully diverted to mental health outpatient treatment or voluntarily submitted to inpatient treatment instead of being taken into involuntary custody for evaluation, GPD said.

"The biggest success is that we were able to defer so many people from going to jail and from being Baker Acted or receiving inpatient treatment," Boyer said.

She said the team does a general assessment of behavior, whether the person is a threat to themselves or others and are they on their medication.

GPD said in a release that to have a significant impact on the community, more community services are needed.

"If this is just one team out there, what could two or three or five teams do?" Postle said.

The Gainesville police chief said the numbers speak for themselves and he hopes for the program to expand in the future. 

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