The Largo Police Department and local nonprofit Directions for Living are celebrating the success of their partnership and the help they’ve been able to get for hundreds of people living with a mental illness.
“When someone has a mental illness or experience a mental health emergency, taking them to jail is not the right intervention,” said April Lott, CEO of Directions for Living.
That’s where Largo’s mental health unit comes in.
“The person may be involved in illegal activities because of their mental illness, but they are not criminals,” she said.
The PD and Directions for Living launched their mental health unit in 2018, with veteran officers Albin Soto and social worker Tiana Audet.
They use the crisis intervention model, also known as CIT, which was created and first used in Memphis. Basically, the unit will respond to all non-criminal 911 calls involving mental health.
Together, Soto and Audet work together to get the person the help they need, stead of putting them in jail for the night.
“We think every police department and [sheriff’s] office needs something like this,” said both Soto and Audet.
According to a mental health study, about 80 percent of 911 calls involve someone suffering from a mental illness. Audet said they’ve been able to cut that percentage down with Largo’s mental health unit.
Soto and Audet responded to more than 700 calls in the first four months and were able to connect more than 120 people to services that will help them manage their mental health.
“It has really just been very successful,” said Lott.
Directions for Living has partnerships with 16 other agencies in Pinellas County, including Clearwater and the sheriff’s office.
In the wake of recent officer-involved shootings and protest around the country, several other local agencies are looking into a similar unit.
St Petersburg’s police chief made this announcement at a press conference last month. He plans to launch their unit in October.