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Alachua County’s 911 Dispatchers Learn To Spot Mental Illnesses

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The Combined Communications Center at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office is providing new training for its emergency dispatchers.

The Emergency Health Mental Dispatch is part of a pilot program focused on teaching emergency dispatchers how to effectively answer emergency calls made by people with serious mental illnesses and those who are in a personal conflict, such as suicidal thoughts. Telecommunicators are responsible for dispatching law enforcement as well as trying to keep callers from harming themselves or others.

“What this allows us to do is really understand what they’re dealing with and what is going on through their minds while they’re on the phone with us,” said Matt Russell, an ACSO telecommunicator. “If we don’t know what is going on with them, it’s really hard for us to build an alliance and work with them and really show them that we’re here to help them.”

In November alone, the center received about 12,000 calls. Telecommunicators said they field about 100 calls per day on average.

Russell said the training has given dispatchers the tools they need to see how far they need to take their conversations and where they should stop before things escalate.

All in all, Russell said the program has made him much more comfortable taking emergency calls.

“Being confident on the phone is everything,” he said. “When you are on the phone with somebody, you can tell if they know what they are doing or not, and the better that we’re equipped to do our job, the better that we’re going to sound and the more helpful that we can be.”

About Alexa Lightle

Alexa is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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