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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At the Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO), we understand mental health concerns are public safety concerns. As a public safety organization, we seek to explore new and effective ways to address mental health issues that touch our community.

Responding to a call for service involving a person in crisis can be challenging. As first responders, we recognize the need to diversify our response capabilities to include a more collaborative approach that best addresses the immediate needs of the situation. Recently, BSO launched a law enforcement Co-Responder Program, which pairs a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained deputy with a licensed mental health clinician to respond to crisis calls for service. The joint response provides immediate advantages. The deputy and clinician can accurately determine the needs of the individual and identify opportunities to connect them to necessary community resources. The Co-Responder Program is currently in the pilot phase. Based on its success, we have plans to expand the program to other BSO districts.

Another program focusing on mental health is our Behavioral Health Licensed Therapist (BHLT) program operating under BSO's Threat Management Unit (TMU). BSO's TMU focuses on investigating persons who threaten to commit acts of mass violence and stop that from occurring. The BHLT team is composed of veteran therapists who work alongside TMU detectives to investigate these threats. When a threat is made, one of our licensed therapists is paired with a CIT-trained detective to provide professional on-scene threat and needs assessments. The cooperative investigation affords the ability to assess individuals for mental illness and substance abuse issues and link them with appropriate community providers who can offer treatment. Currently, our BHLT program has assisted with nearly 1,400 cases. Of the individuals they have interacted with, 44 percent have accepted services.

While our new programs and initiatives are making a difference, the cornerstone of our mental health work starts with our CIT program. CIT provides specialized training to help identify and more effectively engage an individual living with a mental health issue. The key is de-escalation. In situations where moods can shift, and actions can escalate quickly, the first few moments of contact are critical to calming individuals.

Our CIT-trained employees are placed where they can have the most significant impact. For example, all our school resource deputies are CIT-trained. In addition, our 9-1-1 communications operators undergo CIT training to identify which calls might require a specialized response. This training is critical on the front lines. About 55 percent of BSO's law enforcement deputies are CIT certified; my goal is to reach 100.

In public safety, no call is the same. Our diversified approach to handling these crisis calls allows us to help individuals in their greatest time of need and connect them with valuable resources. We will continue to explore opportunities that best serve the people and ensure the safety of Broward County.

Sheriff Gregory Tony
Service Equals Reward