Tallahassee city commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to allow a pilot program of the behavioral health crisis intervention response unit, which plans to partner with the Apalachee Center.
During the meeting Mayor John Dailey had to recuse himself from the chambers due to a conflict of interest he has in connection to the Apalachee Center.
The crisis response unit will consist of a licensed mental health professional, a Tallahassee Police Department officer who will be specially trained in mental health, and a Tallahassee Fire Department paramedic.
The three person team will be stationed and will execute most of their operations at the Apalachee Center on Capital Circle Northeast.
The program has already had approved funding by the city commission with a budget of $500,000.
As a pilot program, it will begin taking non-violent calls that deal with Baker Acts and then hopes to expand to more emergency-related calls.
Jay Reeve, the president and CEO of the Apalachee Center, explained the history of the idea of a response unit.
“A year and a half ago the Apalachee Center was contracted by the state to create a large mobile response team across the eight counties of the Big Bend area. This mobile response team provides 24/7 access to mental health crises telephonically and Leon County live. However it is a stand alone team that can access virtually anyone,” Reeve said.
Darwin Gamble used his three minutes to share his hopes for the program and went into more detail about the dangers of including a uniformed police officer.
“This may be one of the most important votes any of you will ever cast. I think we all know now that it is not appropriate to send uniform police officers armed with guns to answer every 9-1-1 call. I think we also know that the mere sight of uniformed police officers may escalate a situation into something as we seen lately in Philadelphia. I think this proposal has the potential to save lives,” said Gamble.
Although according to the proposal, the TPD officer will be in plain clothes, some still find an issue with people with mental health issues seeing the sight of a squad car on the scene.
“Here is what is particularly important in my perspective is the law enforcement presence within this team will be in plain clothes these will crisis intervention team officers it will be a similar model to what some other cities in the country are using to take the official law enforcement presence and minimize potential shock value for those in the community who are experiencing behavioral health or kinds of crises one of the things that we know is as well trained as our law enforcement officers are the sight of a squad car with lights going or uniformed officers can cause difficulty in this program,” Reeve said.
Barry Monroe used his three minutes to share his own experiences with mental illness and how he feels about this response unit.
“I am a person who lives with mental illness and I am also a family member of a person who lives with a mental illness. Oftentimes this is unrecognized people are afraid of the stigma that attaches to it, but I really think this pilot program you are initiating has some room for merit,” Monroe said.
According to Abena Ojetayo, the chief resilience officer for the city, the program will deliver over 2,000 calls which will help many law enforcement units and teams with their overload of emergency calls.
The pilot program is set to begin this spring and will continue until the end of the year in December. If the program is a success it can eventually evolve into a 24/7 crisis unit and gain more partnerships with other resources in the city.