MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- Giving them help, rather than jail time.
The Martin County sheriff is preparing to test a new resource he hopes will keep the mentally ill, suicidal and drug addicted out of his jail.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office is planning to hire mental health professionals to hit the streets alongside deputies.
These experts would respond to emergency calls involving someone struggling with mental health issues and addiction.
Where deputies might see someone committing a crime, a mental health professional might see someone calling out for help. Instead of going to jail, Snyder hopes these mental health professionals can help deputies better determine if a person should be baker acted, given medical attention, or simply left with family for observation.
“Our goal is diversion. We don’t want mentally ill people in the Martin County Jail if we can avoid it,” Snyder said.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office is the first in the state, according to Snyder, to receive grant money to pay for the mental health experts.
Deputy Edward Stagmiller is among the deputies who would be working with the mental health experts.
He says emergency calls involving someone suicidal or mentally instable come in nearly every day.
“Close to nightly, if not a couple times a week,” Stagmiller said.
Those calls are some of the most trying and sensitive for deputies.
“Definitely have to go into it understanding what these people are going through rather than looking at it from a law enforcement stand point.”
Stagmiller says deputies are given some training on how to deal with people struggling with mental illness, but not nearly as much as the experts Snyder will be hiring.
“By no means are we mental health professionals,” Stagmiller said.
Snyder is looking to bring on five Masters Level Clinical Professionals licensed in mental illness and substance abuse intervention.
He hopes it will give peace of mind to mothers like Nathalie, who did not want to give her last name.
Her son was Baker Acted by deputies this week, after lashing out at his neighbors.
Nathalie was able to get to her son’s house while deputies were on scene.
“I found a bunch of medication that I thought he was taking and he wasn’t,” Nathalie said.
She explained to deputies that her son is bipolar and suffers from other personality disorders.
Because she was able to give that information to deputies, he was Baker Acted, not arrested.
Nathalie says that hasn’t always happened in other encounters he’s had with law enforcement in other counties.
“There was one or two instances where he should have gone to the hospital. One in particular, I pleaded, but they took him to jail,” Nathalie said.
She knows she can not be there for every call, but she finds relief knowing a mental health expert could be in her place in the future.
“It’s a first step and I’m really happy because there isn’t a lot of help out there,” Nathalie said.
The $325,000 in grant money is expected to be received by the sheriff’s office in October, when they hope to start hiring the professionals.
This will be a pilot program the sheriff hopes will be a model to other agencies around the state, or the country.