The next time a Mobile police officer has to interact with a member of the public experiencing mental health issues, a certified, professional counselor could be right beside them, helping to de-escalate the situation.
A $742,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will allow the city to partner with AltaPointe Health to provide on-call counselors to help police better deal with situations involving those suffering from mental health issues, Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced in a press conference Thursday morning.
“Hardly a day goes by without a police officer coming into contact with someone suffering with a mental illness,” Stimpson said. “They turn to best practices in those situations, but it’s always a challenge. We’re very fortunate now to have AltaPointe to call and give them the help they need.”
The pilot program would allow mental health professionals to get involved before an arrest is made, Stimpson said.
“The early intervention would allow us to handle it in a better way,” he said. “We are very excited about this.”
The majority of the $742,000, or about $620,000, would go to AltaPointe. The remaining $122,000 would be split between the University of South Alabama for research and the Mobile Police Department for enhanced training, Stimpson said.
The grant would fund the pilot program for two years, which Stimpson hopes could be extended if it shows success.
The program is needed in the Mobile Area, AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger said. Since October of 2020, he said, there have been 6,000 mental health screenings at Mobile Metro Jail. Since 2019, there have been 21,000 such screenings at the jail.
“We have got a major problem,” he said. “This grant goes a long way in dealing with that problem.”
In addition to helping police de-escalate a situation before an arrest, Schlesinger said the grant would allow AltaPointe to go into the jail to provide services to inmates and help identify mentally ill individuals during interactions with law enforcement.
MPD officers are already trained on how to de-escalate situations, Executive Director of Public Safety Lawrence Battiste told reporters. The enhanced training would seek out officers who have a passion for dealing with the mentally ill and put teams together in each police precinct. The MPD would also work within the community to help identify those in need of mental health care.
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