On September 23, 2020, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a press conference to announce the expansion of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Mental Health Unit.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responds to about 5,000 mental health related calls a year, which could often result in an arrest or a Baker Act.
Law enforcement recognizes that some individual’s actions are a result of mental illness and that the acts are not true criminal acts, but symptoms of mental illness. Law enforcement, being the least qualified, is often called upon to deal with these situations, and criminalizing mental illness is not the way it should be handled.
Sheriff Gualtieri explained that the newly expanded Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Mental Health Unit co-response model will team deputies with in-house mental health professionals, who will work together, but stay within their own areas of expertise. Calls for service will be screened and if it is determined to be mental health related, members of the unit will respond to the call to provide an initial assessment to address the issue and determine whether a Baker Act is required and what type of services are needed. The case will then be referred for follow-up case management.
Sheriff Gualtieri said, "We can treat people better and produce better outcomes while keeping them out of the jail and out of the Baker Act system which is what this initiative seeks to do. We're breaking the mold and we're creating a different model and we must do that if we want a different result.”
To view the complete press conference, please see the attached link: https://youtu.be/4qwhfDEMfzA
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