Emerging police partnership may change criminal justice in Jacksonville

Co-Responder Program allows police-mental health professional team to respond to emergencies

The pilot program began more than a year ago. The goal of it is to de-escalate challenging situations, and keep people out of jail by partnering JSO officers with licensed mental health professionals.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A program that partners Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers with licensed mental health “co-responders” is set to launch next year.

The goal of the program is to divert people in crisis from the criminal justice system to mental health services that will enable individuals to remain or regain stability.

Krystyna Dzierzanowski and Chris Rousselle are two of the original members of Duval County’s co-responder program.

“I’ve gained so much training and knowledge of how these different scenarios play out and how different diagnosis and things work and have a better understanding of what these individuals go through,” said Chris Rouselle, a JSO police officer.

“It was just a good opportunity for the program to come in, us to come in, and see what we can do to help these individuals,” said Krystyna Dzierzanowski, a mental health clinician.

A pilot version of the program began more than a year ago.

Now, 12 police officers and seven licensed mental health clinics will work together around the city.

Assistant Police Chief Robert Ellis Burns says it is a much-needed change for the better.

“Hopefully, people see this as police are here to help me and they’ll take that to heart that we are here to help,” Burns said.

JSO has traditionally been the largest provider of mental health services through the Department of Corrections.

This program looks to change that.

“We’re not here to arrest our way out of this problem. This opens up a whole other door bringing in true mental health professionals who are experts in this who can help us guide the people to get the services they need,” said Burns.

JSO and its partner, LSF Health Systems, plan to start pairing new teams this month, with a full launch slated for next year.

Before launching the pilot program in Duval County, LSF Health Systems supported a similar project in Alachua County.

It says it saved taxpayers hundreds of dollars by diverting 92% of people with mental health issues away from jail and emergency rooms.

About the Author:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.