PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office is ensuring the safety of both deputies and civilians through a new Crisis Intervention initiative.
As the mental health crisis continues to rise across the US, law enforcement is typically the first response in many cases. In response, the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office began the Integrated Response for Intervention and Support (IRIS) Unit.
"Our team drives unmarked vehicles are, plain white vehicles, and their uniforms don't look like mine," said Sergeant Craig Brandon. "We want a warmer inviting type of presentation. People get embarrassed when the police cars are at their house."
Brandon says the program is the first of its kind in the area. He also notes that the goal is to have a Crisis Intervention-Trained Deputy, a Mental Health Clinician, and an EMS Provider responding to mental health or drug crisis calls.
Dana Klein, Supervisor of Clinicians for the Mental Health Unit, says her team has already seen improvements in the area with more calls coming in for help and suicide attempts being down 5%.
"Diversions are the whole point of this program, the less people we can put in the jails or even in protective custody to get them the services and help engage them further into more of a long-term care is the whole goal here," said Klein.
Michael Davis, Deputy Chief of Charlotte County Fire and EMS, says it is keeping people safe all while taking up less space in hospitals and jails.
"We're keeping them out of the legal system, if it's something that we can address before they commit a crime then we've just diverted them out of the legal system," said Davis. "That is the true intent of this amazing team is to be proactive, not reactive."