Pinellas County Sheriff Expands Mental Health Unit
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced on Wednesday the expansion of the agency’s mental health unit along with the creation of a true co-response model.
“We’re breaking the mold and we’re creating a different model,” said Sheriff Gualtieri. “We must do that if we want a different result.”
Instead of using contract mental health professionals, the agency will employ six crisis response specialists. They’ll make up the new unit along with six deputies, a sergeant, a corporal and a licensed mental health clinical supervisor.
“Lets get the qualified people out there with the cops, bring them together,” said Gualtieri. “They all bring their skill set. They all stay in their lane. They compliment each other. They work as a team.”
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responds to 5,000 mental health related calls every year, which often end with an arrest or Baker Act.
“The people who are least qualified to address the mental health issues, which are the cops, are being called upon too often to deal with the symptoms of mental illness,” Gualtieri said. “Criminalizing mental health disorders is not the way it should be handled.”
The Sheriff said he’s also strengthening the agency’s case management system to make it more effective.
“A single case manager is responsible for an individual’s care coordination and treatment,” he said. “So, they don’t bounce around among providers without a cohesive objective that works towards solving people’s problems.”
Sheriff Gualtieri said the newly created program should be up and running in the next few weeks. The Mental Health Unit will work from noon-to-midnight, Monday through Friday, which is the peak times for those types of calls.
The unit will first work a pilot area that’s located between State Road 580 in Clearwater and Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park. The Sheriff said his agency is the first in Pinellas County to try this different approach.
“Who’s owning the problem?” asked Gualtieri. “This is ownership.”