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Wakulla Times Article -- March 2010--Mental Health and Public Safety

A growing trend in law enforcement today involves initiatives to deal with mental health in the public safety domain. One of the primary goals for law enforcement is to protect citizens from crime and to prevent violence before it occurs. With this in mind we are continually seeking ways to further enhance our ability to assess situations and respond to people in crisis. 

The professionals at the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office are initiating strategies and skills to effectively communicate and resolve issues related to mental health crises. Florida State Statute 494.451 and 494.455 titled “Florida Mental Health Act” defines Mental Illness as “an impairment of the mental or emotional processes that exercise conscious control of one’s actions or of the ability to perceive or understand reality, which impairment substantially interferes with a person’s ability to meet the ordinary demands of living regardless of etiology.”

Since January 2009 the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office has responded and assisted in 118 voluntary or involuntary examinations to determine the mental wellness of citizens. Many of these incidents involved diagnosed conditions, but some did not. Numerous studies have shown that there is really no more prevalence for violence in individuals with a diagnosed mental condition when compared to their neighbors.

A vast majority of individuals with mental illnesses, even those with serious mental illnesses, do not commit violent acts. However, a deputy knows that some may also be violent and pose a risk to themselves and others.Crisis Intervention Team Training has been developed to provide law enforcement professionals with insight into people who experience a mental illness and issues related to mental illness. There has been a realization that law enforcement officers serve as a front-line responder in the community.  If a person has a mental illness how will the deputy know? 

How will they react? In many cases law enforcement interacts with families when crisis situations arise. Families and deputies are both the 24-7 crisis care providers.   Each make assumptions about the other, what they can, what they should or should not do, what training they can have and how they can do “more or “better.”Starting in April, I have asked the North Florida Public Safety Institute, in conjunction with the Apalachee Center, to provide classes in Crisis Intervention to members of the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office. It is my goal that as many of our staff members become certified as Crisis Intervention Team members as possible. 

This will take some time to fully implement, but I believe it is an important endeavor that will enhance the safety of our deputies and the citizens of our community. Through this training our command, patrol, detention and communications staff will:

· Become better educated about the medical and behavioral aspects of mental illness. · Identify situations where a person with mental illness, law enforcement and mental health providers might interact.  

· Learn specific intervention techniques for managing a mentally ill person in crisis.

· Become familiar with the The Apalachee Center and other resources in the community. Understanding the types of mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, conduct disorders, antisocial disorder, personality paranoid, personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and their symptoms will also be a part of the training.  Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in America. 

According the United States Surgeon General, one in five American citizens will experience mental illness at some point during their lives. Less than three percent of the population is diagnosed with a chronic serious mental illness. Many conditions are brought on by an injury as well. As the public safety agency for Wakulla County members of the Wakulla County Sheriff’s office are required to assess whether an individual we come in contact with poses a risk and are capable of harming themselves or another citizen. This will be done through our communications center, detention center or while on patrol. The way in which a professional law enforcement officer communicates with a person-in-crisis can either escalate or de-escalate a situation. Increasing the professional judgment of the WCSO members in these situations will increase our ability to keep Wakulla County and all of its citizens safe.

 

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