New program teams up Gainesville police with mental health clinicians

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The Gainesville police department and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare are joining forces to change the response to mental health calls.

The co- responder program pairs a GPD officer with a mental health clinician to respond to calls involving people with mental illness, mental healthcare crisis and calls involving emotionally charged situations.

" Its a true dream for us to have a mental health clinician sitting in a police car with us ready to respond to calls. We don't have to call a hotline or call somebody out, that person is right there with the officers ready to handle those problems," GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said.

The program aims to help people dealing with mental illness get treatment before a behavioral health crisis escalates to an arrest.

" Instead of taking them to jail where they're filling up the jail and not getting the treatment that they need, we're able to actually divert them over to mental health treatment," GPD officer Shelly Postle said.

The program started on Monday and Officer Shelly Postle said she's already seeing a positive response from the people she received calls from.

" It made them feel like somebody cares. Instead of somebody just showing up and saying this is what you can do. It makes them feel like we care when we can say call us whenever you need us and we'll schedule some appointments for you and be with you along the way."

For now the co-responder program is a pilot program, but GPD is hopeful it will expand throughout Gainesville.


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