Pasco Sheriff’s Office Travels Upstream With Crime Prevention by Addressing Mental Health
Pasco Sheriff’s Office is committed to providing supportive ways to help our community and travel upstream with crime prevention by addressing mental health. In line with our motto of “We Fight As One,” PSO shares the belief we can raise awareness on the value of sound behavioral health and wellness within our community. Although mental health is a healthcare issue, it can often have a law enforcement element. Roughly 80 percent of PSO’s calls for service have a mental health component, ranging anywhere from those who are trespassing as a way to find shelter for a night, to those experiencing a mental health crisis and posing a threat to themselves or others.
As a result, PSO created one of Florida’s largest and most robust behavioral health units in 2019. The Behavioral Health Intervention Team (or BHIT) looks to make a meaningful impact on the lives of citizens with which they engage, by connecting them to services like mental health counselors, stable housing and job placement services. PSO’s BHIT connects with those that are high utilizers of emergency services, including law enforcement, fire rescue and emergency medical services. Members of this unit provide resources to individuals who are struggling and help them find lasting solutions for the challenges they face. BHIT detectives often find that individuals call emergency services because they’re not sure where to turn. BHIT is able to assess their needs and connect them the best community-based resources to address them, leading to a reduction in calls to 9-1-1.
Mental health has no single profile or common case, and meeting the unique needs for an individual’s mental wellbeing can come in many forms. Behavioral health cases require proper communication and outreach to establish trust. BHIT detectives build meaningful relationships through trust with their clients, while connecting citizens with resources in our community. This can include assisting clients with transportation to appointments, finding low cost medication and reassuring needs are met as much as possible. PSO’s BHIT includes detectives with a variety of specialities to best fit a citizen’s needs, from working with those that have survived an overdose, to connecting with children or veterans that have traumatic experiences or specific medical conditions, to responding to scenes with a mental health counselor, or providing animal-assisted therapy K-9s to bring calm to a stressful situation. Read more about a few BHIT specialities:
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) K-9s provide a soothing presence to reduce stress and provide comfort to those in a difficult situation. These K-9s can make situations less overwhelming by allowing the individual to focus on the K-9 instead. Each AAT K-9 is certified as an AKC Canine Good Citizen and is a certified therapy K-9, who continually train to best serve in their role. PSO’s BHIT currently has two such teams, both of whom are shelter-rescued dogs.
BHIT’s Co-Responder unit consists of a BHIT detective paired with a licensed mental health professional, providing twice the perspective at a call for service. While the detective responds as a law enforcement presence, maintaining and evaluating the situation for safety of others as well as themselves, the mental health professional is able to give expedited diagnostic treatment to the individual in crisis. At the same time, the BHIT detective is trained in what resources are available in the community that best fit an individual. Open conversation with the individual helps to identify if they are in crisis and provides clues to with what they are struggling. The mental health professional can assess and evaluate any conditions to provide a referral for care. Regardless of the nature of the call, the co-responder team can assist and provide a transition of care.
Many individuals may not feel that they can ask for help, are unsure of where to begin or how much it will cost. The goal of the co-responder unit, and BHIT, is to get each client the help they need for lasting results. Obtaining a referral for treatment is a common challenge. Det. Graham is a PSO BHIT detective on a Co-Responder unit and during his time with the program, he and his partner have built a strong relationship with providers in our community, pairing knowledge of insurance coverage and grant programs to help alleviate this challenge. Det. Graham’s mission is to leave each client better than how they were upon meeting them. So far, he believes the Co-Responder unit has been highly successful with voluntary desire from citizens seeking treatment.
PSO’s BHIT also includes a detective dedicated to following up with those who recently experienced an overdose, connecting them with resources, as well as support, to seek recovery. With a mission to help people, Det. Kane pursued a career in law enforcement after completing a degree in Psychology. BHIT was the perfect opportunity to pair his passion for helping others with law enforcement. Det. Kane shared many individuals who overdose often suffer from not having a professional diagnosis or treatment for mental health combined with trying to self-medicate with recreational drugs. PSO’s BHIT helps citizens overcome common constraints such as transportation, scheduling stability, proper medication procedures and cost.
Any time an individual is open to discussing resources, BHIT considers this a win. Although the solution may not be immediate, it can be a step in a positive direction, as open mindsets often lead to treatment and recovery. Citizens may initially fear being approached by BHIT, as they associate law enforcement with arrests.. The intention is the opposite; BHIT is here to help our community find treatment and recovery with community-based resources, and keep individuals out of the criminal justice system. BHIT detectives understand trust is vital for citizens’ reception of mental health and treatment. PSO is proud to connect citizens with services and help Pasco County be a safer place for all.
BHIT detectives have shared that support systems can provide encouragement and accountability for mental health and recovery. Sharing a positive approach to mental health through welcoming conversation may resolve feelings of isolation. Recovery is a journey and can take time. If someone you know struggles with mental health, offering support can truly aid their recovery. PSO understands that many individuals often struggle to find help when they need it most. PSO’s BHIT has compiled Pasco community-based resources on our website to provide citizens with a starting point on the road to recovery and stability. Resources are available for various challenges that citizens may encounter, including mental health issues, houselessness, suicidal thoughts and more.
Beyond BHIT, PSO also requires Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for deputies, to equip them with the skills necessary to interact with an individual who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, a high stress situation or be in an altered mental state due to a medical condition. This training, in conjunction with de-escalation training, provides PSO deputies with the skills to bring calm to a situation. CIT and de-escalation training also serves our community, citizens and our members by ensuring that PSO deputies are well equipped with the tools they need to respond to any situation and keep everyone in our community safe.
PSO equips deputies with the knowledge and skillset needed to respond to calls in which an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis, through crisis intervention and de-escalation training. While many of PSO’s calls have a mental health component, PSO has taken the initiative to create ways to address these across many facets of our agency, which leads to a reduction in calls to emergency services, as well as a reduction in crimes. By establishing partnerships with community-based resources easily accessible to our citizens, this ensures that recovery is achievable, and training deputies on how to respond to these calls helps us make a safer community for all.