Mental Health Response Expands in Houston County

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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -- A new law helps officers find help and treatment for anyone they believe to be mentally ill.

Photo courtesy: MGN

The law cuts out the middle man. So now, trained officers will be able to make onsite decisions on if someone goes to the hospital or jail, which means officers get back on the streets faster.

It's intended to prevent crime and save lives, but before officers can do that, they have to get certified.

This training will certify Dothan Police and Houston County officials to identify and respond to mental illness crises.

For those dealing with schizophrenia, a mental illness that causes hallucinations, everyday activities are a challenge.

"You don't know the individual, that's why the training is so important. They will have a checklist that guides them through it that will help them read better. On-site, they will either decline them or take them to the medical center and the following workday they will meet with Judge Davenport and set up a hearing," said Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza.

Dothan Police Department, crisis negotiator Scott Owens uses active listening skills every day.

"By us understanding the signs and symptoms, by realizing someone is in a mental crisis, what they preach is to step back and get out of automatic pilot, which is to think outside of the box through dialogue," said Owens.

He says that conversation can make a difference.

"We want to resolve crises that happen through mental health without using force," said Owens.

Before this training - only Houston County deputies were able to respond to mental health situations -
Now, ten Dothan Police Officers will be qualified to do so.

"I’ve had two situations I’ve been involved with recently, we have had to use the Sheriff’s Department’s resources to get those people help. Had we had this training sooner maybe we could have solved the problem sooner, and avoided criminal charges,” said DPD Lieutenant Pepper Mock.

A mental health counselor says families should never ignore signs of illness. The sooner the treatment, the better the chances for recovery.