Ga. police, university partner to develop co-responder program
The students helped connect officers with resources to divert people from jail into community programs
By Ashley Silver
MOULTRIE, Ga. —Dealing with a smaller force and limited mental health support, one Georgia police department has been able to tackle tough mental health issues in the community through a partnership between their officers and University of Georgia students.
According to UGA News, 911 calls in Moultrie about disturbances often lead to jail for substance abusers or individuals with a history of mental health issues.
“They had mental health issues and they needed help,” Moultrie Police Chief Sean Ladson told UGA News. “And jail incarceration was not it.”
Three years ago, UGA faculty member Sarah Adams was searching for projects that could serve as a culminating experience for her graduating seniors when she met Moultrie Police Officer Tonero Bender.
“She just threw it out there, if anybody had any ideas of something that they could put their teeth into and to do the research on, to let her know,” Bender told UGA News. “So, one of the first things that came to my mind was the need for some type of collaboration between the mental health community and law enforcement community.”
From there, a team of students from Terry College of Business Institute for Leadership Advancement visited Moultrie Police, accompanied officers on ride-alongs to analyze what type of calls they were responding to and assessing current mental health resources.
The students helped discover additional resources other law enforcement agencies had in place to help those with mental health issues. They were able to make recommendations to Moultrie’s chief of police about their findings.
As a result, Moultrie Police were connected with Georgia Pines, a community service board set up by the state to help people with mental health issues, developmental disabilities or substance abuse. Julio Ginel, a mental health counselor with Georgia Pines, now works as a co-responder with Moultrie police.
UGA News reported between May and August of this year, Ginel and police, have diverted 79 people from jail, many into programs where they can find help.