ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County’s sheriff is pushing to have more of his deputies educated in mental health.
It comes as 9 Investigates learned during some shifts, there are no deputies on the clock who have been trained in crisis intervention.
Investigative reporter Karla Ray asked why it’s so tough to get that training to those on the front lines.
With around 1,600 sworn deputies, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is the largest agency in Central Florida; but when faced with someone in crisis, not every deputy is trained to know the signs of mental illness, or how to deescalate a situation.
“They are doing what they do, doing the best they can do, with what they have,” mental health advocate Selma Frett said.
Frett knows the situation firsthand. Her brother is a diagnosed schizophrenic, currently living in a mental health hospital. She says when she’s had to call 911 for help in the past, she knows not to always expect those responding to have crisis intervention training.
“We need more law enforcement officers with CIT training,” Frett said.
Sheriff’s Office Capt. Carlos Torres admitted it would be ideal to have everyone trained in crisis intervention.
“Unfortunately, we don't have the ability to get everyone trained at a snap of the finger,” Torres explained. “This is training that takes some time to put together.”
Torres told 9 Investigates that in an agency with around 2,500 total employees, only about 400 are CIT-certified. The course is immersive and has to be coordinated with community partners.
Valencia College provides the CIT course for Orange County agencies, and Torres says those classes only come up about five times per year. OCSO is in competition with all Orange County agencies for seats in those classes.
Torres says part of the reason fewer deputies on the street are trained to deal with mental health, is that priority has to go to School Resource officers. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act requires that officers in schools have at least some mental health training.
“That requirement has put a challenge in getting our regular personnel certified,” Torres said.
That doesn’t mean the need is slowing down. Torres estimates at least 1 in 10 calls to the Sheriff’s Office for help have some mental health component.
“We don't have enough cops to do that, and do their job,” Frett said.
Torres says part of Sheriff John Mina’s 2020 initiative is to expand shorter mental health courses to more deputies, so even if they cannot become certified, they can have a mental health mindset.
Sheriff’s Office officials also hope to expand wraparound services outside of schools, to help the general public if they’re faced with a crisis.
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