Meridian Behavior Healthcare Inc. and Gainesville Police Department launched a new co-responder program Monday aiming to provide a different approach to mental health crises in the local community.
The program goes beyond standard police intervention, focusing on early intervention and connecting individuals to mental health services to prevent arrests and keep those in need out of the criminal justice system.
“Arresting people particularly with mental health issues and just putting them in jail is not going to solve the problem,” Police Chief Tony Jones said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
The program consists of two full-time staff: Officer Shelley Postle and Makenzie Boyer, a Meridian clinician. The duo will ride along together and spend the majority of their time responding to calls with mental health components and conducting follow-ups.
When asked what their first day on the job was like, Postle described it as busy.
“We’re getting calls today from people we talked to yesterday,” she said.
For now, the $300,000 program is in its pilot stage. Once there is data to support that the program works, the next step is acquiring more funding.
Lieutenant Whitney Stout said that while it’s a financial reach, the money is worth it.
“I do think we’re going to help a lot of people,” she said. “My understanding is that the population in the jail who needs mental health services has increased.”