PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Largo and Belleair police departments are stepping outside of the box to handle mental health calls.
They're testing a new program that involves iPads and counselors. The program is called TRACE, Telehealth, Remote Access for Crises Evaluations.
"It's creative. It's innovative. In my opinion, it's the future of policing," said April Lott.
Lott is the president and CEO of Directions for Living. She said she came up with the idea for TRACE during the pandemic.
"COVID-19 forced a lot of us to get comfortable using technology and programs like Zoom," she said. "Seeing how beneficial Zoom has been, I thought, why not try this program."
It's pretty easy to use, according to officials. When officers show up to a mental health call, they can use their TRACE iPad to call up a counselor. The counselor takes it from there.
"We think of the counselor as a de-escalator and an intake person," said Belleair LT. Randall Chaney.
The counselor then works with the person to develop a safety plan for them and help the officer decide whether a baker act is needed.
"The program has already been very successful," One of the counselors said. "In the last few months, we've been able to divert 61 baker acts."
"For some departments, mental health calls make up 80% of their calls. That's what makes this program vital," said Lott.
In Largo alone, officers responded to more than 4,500 mental health calls between 2016 and 2018. According to the department, 731 of those calls in 2017 involved the same 15 people.
Belleair numbers aren't quite as high. However, Chaney said, "we do certainly get those same calls here. In fact, we got one recently, and this program was a huge help."
The program is available Sunday 3p-11p; Monday - Thursday 7a-11p; and Friday 7a-3p.
"This program is safer for everyone involved," said Chaney.
Directions For Living is funding the program, so there is no cost to taxpayers at this time.