City's mental health co-responder team shows promising results

GAINESVILLE, Fla., (WCJB) -- Back in April, the Gainesville Police Department partnered with Meridian Behavioral Healthcare Inc. to launch the city’s first mental health co-responder team.

The team consists of a full-time police officer and a mental health clinician who respond to calls where they suspect an underlying mental health condition.

According to GPD, since April the number of arrests involving people suspected of having a mental health condition has been reduced.

The co-responder team was able to avoid arrest in 402 instances, meaning 92% of suspects were sent to get help through mental health services.

Certain incidents here in Gainesville helped spark the idea for the team, which has initiated a different approach.

in 2014, 28-year old Michael Cravey stabbed a man and fled the scene.

Hours later Cravey was spotted by police, and once cornered by officers he threatened and charged them with a hatchet. He was shot several times and later pronounced dead.

In 2016, Robert Dentmond found himself in a standoff with GPD officers, when he displayed a realistic airsoft rifle that led officers to fire shots that killed him. It was discovered later in both investigations that the suspect's mental health was a factor.

"To have a police department I think really on the cutting edge of working with the community in a partnership way that is a blessing, because often you call law enforcement and they’re not trained or there is no recognition with people of special needs or people that have mental health, real mental issues and it can end in terrible ways,” stated Deborah Bowie, Executive Chief of Staff - City Manager's office.

Chief of Police Tony Jones said he is pleased with the progress thus far and is looking forward to even greater results as time goes on.