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Crisis team to address mental health situations in Richmond County

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 5:57 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 9, 2020 at 5:17 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - An election year, a global pandemic forcing at-home learning, a call on racial injustice: it’s safe to say, we’re all on edge. But for those who already struggle with mental health, a combination like this can be deadly.

And the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) says they are trying a new strategy to help.

Sheriff Roundtree said since the start of the pandemic, Richmond County has seen an increase in mental health crisis situations -- including suicide, neglect, and domestic violence.

“When we first started, law enforcement officers were never really trained in a mental health crisis. We’re trained to respond to incidents, to stabilize, and then turn it over to other individuals,” he said. “Now we see that increase in calls in which we respond to that we don’t have the luxury now of waiting to turn those incidents over, to resolve those incidents with a mental health professional.”

With prisons becoming the new psych wards, and dwindling resources for mental health patients, the sheriff’s office is seeing a need to take their training in a new direction.

“Now we have to train our officers not just in law enforcement techniques, not just in de-escalation, mental health crisis intervention, but to deal with problems in real-time to avoid some of the issues that we’re seeing each and every day. So, the citizens of Richmond County should be extremely excited about that,” Roundtree said.

This step toward improving mental health issues and police relations in our community is called the Crisis Intervention Team.

“That mental health Crisis Intervention Team person responds, to crisis situations to avoid some of the instances that we’ve seen around the United States as it relates to police officers who are dealing with mental health issues, who may have responded or overly respond to a situation because they can’t identify a person who’s in crisis,” Roundtree explained.

And mental health experts at Lighthouse Care Center of Augusta work to train local first responders on these issues.

“Unlike a physical ailment, you can kind of point to it and see what’s happening. But what’s going on in someone’s mind, it’s a lot more difficult to identify...,” Jimmy Vincent, Director of Admissions at the center, said.

But they say police training is essential.

“If that first responder is not familiar with mental health first aid or identifying and recognizing crisis, that individual could be seen as someone not in crisis, but someone who may need to be going in custody...,” Vincent said.

The new team launches on November 1. Roundtree says they will start out with one state mental health professional and a trained crisis intervention officer.

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. and Roundtree also touched on gun violence in Augusta during their media briefing today, saying it’s a full community problem. The sheriff’s office will be making changes to help reduce gun violence as well as other deadly situations.

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