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Sheriff wants added resources for mental health crisis

Posted at 5:59 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 17:59:56-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — It was only a few seconds, but there was a lot of drama in the video Martin County Sheriff William Snyder showed county commissioners Tuesday.

It showed a confrontation between deputies and an individual suffering a mental health crisis.

“I’ve had five deputies in the last few months that have pulled triggers and shot people,” Sheriff Snyder said Tuesday. He calls mental health issues a crisis situation.

Baker acts and suicides are up in the county this year.

“Unfortunately we have become the institute of first resort and last resort for people suffering from mental illness,” said Snyder.

In January, deputies killed a mentally ill woman who lunged at them with a weapon.

In March, a Martin County man killed his mother, then was killed in a confrontation with police in Brevard County.

The Sheriff says he owes it to the community to prevent violence between law enforcement and those struggling with mental illness, as his office is the largest mental health provider in the county.

“They come in undiagnosed mental illness and sometimes for the first time they see a mental health provider in the jail,” said Snyder.

New Horizons of the Treasure Coast has counselors now working with the Sheriff’s office 24-7 as people come into the jail, and when they leave the jail.

“So we can also go out with Sheriff when they go out on those calls and have a group and a team of people able to help the Sheriff keep people out of the back of their seats and out of the jail,” said New Horizons CEO William Wims.

The sheriff says his office is looking at new ways to approach mental illness calls, including a five-point chart with differing levels of potential violence.

“Calls that meet a threshold where’s there a likelihood of violence, we intend to have a special unit with specially trained deputies, maybe taking an online college course. We can’t produce psychologists but what I can do is have better educated, better trained deputies in the arena of mental illness,” said the sheriff.

The Sheriff says a specialized mental health unit could lead to fewer deadly encounters in the future.