A new partnership between Gainesville Police Department and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, a health care provider, will change how police responds to calls involving a mental health crisis.
The program, which launched Monday, will change the way calls are handled by including a team consisting of a mental health clinician and an officer trained in crisis intervention, Lt. Whitney Stout said at a Tuesday press conference.
Makenzie Boyer and Officer Shelley Postle will ride together and answer calls that involve emotionally charged situations or mental illness and follow up with patients to ensure they receive mental health resources.
The program has been two years in the making and is intended to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, Stout said. Stout said GPD often responds calls involving behavioral issues that have “underlying” mental health issues.
“As police we really do care,” Stout said. “We want to help people, and we want to get them to the right services.”
The project is jointly funded by the City of Gainesville and Lutheran Services Florida Health Systems, among other organizations. Both contributed $100,000 to the program, said Meridian president and CEO Maggie Labarta.
Boyer and Postle had one word to describe their first day of the program: busy.
The pair is passionate about serving the sector of the community that struggles with mental illness in a way that wasn’t possible before.
“Being able to meet people at their point of need and giving them the services they might not even know are available is crucial for these people,” Boyer said.