Orlando launching pilot program to send mental health professionals to nonviolent calls for service

ORLANDO, Fla. — Starting this weekend, Orlando officials said mental health professionals will begin responding to nonviolent calls for service to focus on de-escalating situations and connecting those in need with support and treatment.

The effort is part of a one-year pilot program called the Community Response Team, which is a partnership between the city, the Orlando Police Department and Aspire Health Partners.

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Each CRT will comprise a licensed clinician and a case manager employed by Aspire Health Partners. The team members will respond to nonviolent calls for service where individuals are unarmed, not threatening violence, and do not have a known history of violence.

“During the last few months, we’ve had a lot of community conversations, and one of the things we heard from our residents is they want Orlando Police Department officers to focus on law enforcement and building relationships through community-oriented policing,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said in a statement. “This new pilot will help further our efforts to do just that by having behavioral health professionals, in lieu of police, be the first responders for residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”

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Police Chief Orlando Rolón said that the department responds to an average of around 50 calls a day regarding individuals who need help with mental health care.

“Both the community and our officers have expressed interest in having trained mental health professionals respond to nonviolent calls for service,” Rolón said in a statement. “This partnership reaffirms our commitment to redefining public safety. Through this program, social service professionals — not just law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics — can also be the first to respond to calls for help.”

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“Individuals in crisis need appropriate behavioral health care that is best provided by trained clinicians,” Aspire CEO Babette Hankey said in a statement. “We are excited to be involved in this new, innovative approach.”

Officials said all CRT members trained side by side with the Orlando Police Department to prepare for the program’s launch on Feb. 28.

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“We are hoping that it will decrease our call volume for our frequent callers that need police assistance or just want someone to talk too,” 911 call supervisor Latashia Stevens said.

The city said CRT members will be on duty during the times the Orlando Police Department receives the most calls involving mental health crises, which is Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturday through Tuesday, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Outside of those hours, Orlando Police will continue to respond to all calls for service.

The city has entered a one-year pilot program contract with Aspire paying more than $450,000. At the end of the year the city will measure the success to see if it’s something that will continue.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.