JSO’s ‘Co-Responders’ program helps officers respond to people in mental health crisis

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The “Co-Responders” program, which partners officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with licensed mental health professionals, has marked three years of service in the community.

The Co-Responders program aims to de-escalate challenging situations and keep people out of jail while answering mental health crises in the city.

The program is now available in all six districts, but it didn’t start that way initially.

When the program first launched, there was only one officer and one mental health clinician for the entire city. Now there’s at least one crew in each zone revolutionizing how the city responds to mental health and substance abuse related crises.

In Zone 6, you’ll find Tiffany Butler and Officer Sylvia Mitchell.

“We work as a team, not just me and her, our whole zone does, and we talk to people,” Mitchell said.

Butler is the MHRC clinician who is responsible for conducting mental health assessments and crisis intervention counseling.

Her goal is to de-escalate the situation and divert individuals from jail, crisis stabilization units and emergency rooms.

“It really helps build that relationship between the community and the officers and to just kind of help end the stigma with mental illness,” Butler said.

Mitchell protects by clearing the area of any possible danger.

Zone 6 includes Jacksonville’s Northside, an area known for higher crime. As a team, Mitchell and Butler were able to divert a crisis that could have possibly turned violent.

“Our guy is in the middle with fists balled up with four officers around him and they’re ready to do whatever they need to do to get him handcuffed and in the car,” Mitchell said. “We walk up, he sees her and then he walks up and grabs her hand, talking about this my psychiatrist. He gets in our car, and we leave.”

Diversion rates are up 80% in Jacksonville, according to data captured by the co-responder program between July to September 2022.

That means that out of all the contacts the co-responder teams made, 80% resulted in the individuals not being arrested or involuntarily committed to a crisis stabilization unit. Instead, they were diverted into a less restrictive form of treatment or care.

The co-responders program hopes to expand even further.

The teams are only available during the daytime shift, but the goal is to have crews patrol each zone at night as well.

About the Author:

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