Digging Deeper: State leaders respond to increase in mental heal - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Digging Deeper: State leaders respond to increase in mental health related calls

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THOMAS CO., GA (WALB) -

Law enforcement officers and state leaders are working together to figure out how to better serve the mental health needs in South Georgia.

Thomasville police and Thomas County sheriff's deputies said they have seen an increase in mental health related calls since the closure of Southwestern State Hospital.

"We want to make this peaceful, we don't want anyone to get hurt," said Officer Newberry in 2015 body camera footage.

Thomasville police said they respond to hundreds of mental health crisis calls each year.

"You never know what kind of episode they are having. They could be sad or escalate to the point where they are about to be violent," explained Captain Maurice Holmes with TPD.

Holmes has spent years in law enforcement, many of which have been in Thomasville. 

He remembers when Southwestern State Hospital use to be open.

"The crisis calls were very few at that time in comparison to what they are now," said Holmes.

"We don't want you to get hurt and we don't want to get hurt we just want you to go with us okay?" said Newberry.

Since Southwestern State Hospital Closed in December of 2013, the Thomasville Police Department began responding to crisis calls and tracking those numbers. 

"It's imperative that we have dialogue with these individuals that will avoid possible use of force. The end result is always that you want compliance," explained Holmes.

So far, 70 percent of the Thomasville Police Department is certified in Crisis Intervention Training. Their goal is to have 100 percent certification.

A graph shows the number of calls dispatched by the Thomas County Sheriff's Office. Around 111 the year Southwestern State Hospital was open in 2013, and 998 in 2014 after it closed.

"From our standpoint, we don't understand why, we just know they are there and we have to deal with them," said Steve Jones with TCSO.

Last week, The sheriff and other leaders within the department met with the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald to go over the numbers and see how the state can continue to advocate for more resources to help.

"Law enforcement and the department of behavioral health are not on opposite sides. The important thing about really looking deeper and understanding why, you don't build the right solutions until you realize what the issue is and we have so much better data available now," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said she doesn't think anyone in a mental health crisis should end up in a patrol car or a jail cell.

She said she and other leaders are working hard on a state level to have community collaborative planning to assist these communities in South Georgia.

"I'm proud to say this is one of the regions in the state that because of good will and people know each other we are solving problems before they happen," said Fitzgerald.

The Thomas County Sheriff's Office reports that more than $480,000 of their funding has been used to transport crisis patients since the hospital closed.

The state representatives from the Department of Behavioral Health said they are working with deputies, teaching them how patient insurance could possibly cover those costs. 

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