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Polk law enforcement agencies add new positions dedicated to help with mental health

Posted at 9:34 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 21:34:55-04

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Polk County, like the rest of the country, is seeing an uptick in mental health calls.

There were 298 Baker Act calls to the Winter Haven Police Department in 2020, that number jumped to 410 in 2021.

“When we do Baker Act somebody, we do follow ups with them. Going out and recontacting them. We make sure you have your doctor's appointment. Are you taking your medication?” said Winter Haven Police Chief David Brennan.

Winter Haven Public Safety Director Charlie Bird, said many times officers are responding to the same people, experiencing a mental health crisis.

“What happens is we go out, we Baker Act or they go to the hospital. As soon as they get out there’s no supporting services, that helps prevent them from getting into that situation again,” Bird said.

That’s why the Winter Haven Police Department is hiring a full-time licensed clinical social worker. The city commission approved additional funding for the new position on Monday.

“We bring this person on, and they will help on those follow-ups and going out. Plus, they’ll have more access to services that are partnering with BayCare, Peace River, those type of organizations,” Brennan said.

A recent study from Polk Vision found the ratio of the population to mental health providers in Polk is 1,190 to 1.

“Look, there’s a problem when your local sheriff is running the largest mental health facility in the county,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Judd is creating a new director of mental health services position. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is also testing a new program where they connect people with services from Peace River Center.

“We take them to a mental health receiving facility, we turn the information over to Peace River. In our beta test we have reduced repeat calls by 22%,” Judd said.