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Fla. dispatch adds 911 video calls, mental crisis counselor

Sheriff Mike Chitwood says the new resources will improve outcomes for everyone


Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

By Suzie Ziegler

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is revamping its 911 dispatch center with new technology and resources. Distressed citizens now can speak with a mental health crisis counselor and will soon be able to share video with dispatchers.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood says a dedicated crisis counselor will help dispatchers get the right resources to where they’re needed. According to Chitwood, about half of the 60,000 calls dispatch receives are related to substance abuse or mental health, reported WESH 2.

“If we could have a mental health professional here from the minute that call comes in to the minute that call is finished, the results of having a positive outcome, they’re exponentially higher,” Chitwood told WESH 2. “You’re looking at less repeated hospitalizations, less repeated incidents of the similar nature.”

Angela Hardee, the crisis care manager hired for the job, will focus on de-escalation tactics and help the caller find the right mental health resources, according to the report.

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"[I] stay on the phone with them until help arrives. Just do whatever I can to make that person feel supported and heard,” Hardee said.

The sheriff’s office is also working on a new technology from Carbyne that will enable dispatchers to share caller video with police in real time, WFTV reported last week. The system lets dispatchers text a link to the caller’s cellphone, which will activate the video call if clicked. The call is recorded and retained just like a regular 911 call, according to the report.

“Every 911 call comes with unknowns, and so much is riding on that initial information gathered over the phone,” Chitwood said. “If we can get a video call up, that gives us a chance to send better info and even a live view to our first responders in those crucial moments before they get to the scene.”

Chitwood says dispatchers have been training on the new program for weeks. The system is expected to launch May 16.