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Local Law Enforcement Being Trained To Help Those With Mental Health Issues

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Sheriff's Office reports a higher rate of calls for depression and mental illness during this time of year. Now, local law enforcement authorities are being trained to recognize signs of mental illness in hopes of keeping the wrong people out of jail.

When Sgt. Kim Wren is on patrol, she can encounter just about any kind of crime. Now she's on the lookout for something that can be far less obvious -- mental illness.

"When someone calls 911, we're training officers in the field across the county so there's more of an immediate response," Wren said.

The Wake County Sheriff's Office, along with the Raleigh Police Department and the Cary Police Department, are creating what's known as crisis intervention teams -- groups of officers that are trained to deal with someone who is having a mental breakdown.

"It's not always someone who's had a mental health problem their whole life," Wren said. "It may be someone that's going through a depression because they lost a job or a divorce that's the crisis at that moment."

The new strategy is based on a national movement that started in Memphis, Tenn. Before the Memphis model changed law enforcement's approach, a person suffering from mental illness who was arrested for a misdemeanor may have wound up in a padded jail cell.

Now the idea is to send them directly to a mental health facility without forcing them to wait in jail where they can turn violent and become a menace to society when they're released.

"That way, you have less chance of violence against the officer and the person and also get them help quicker," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.

With Dorothea Dix Hospital closing in 2007, the crisis intervention plan may soon be in a crisis of its own because officers may have to spend more time on the road transporting patients and less time patrolling the streets.

"It's going to hurt my manpower to protect and serve here, but it's a job we've got to do and somehow, we're going to make it work," Harrison said.

After Dorothea Dix Hospital closes, the plan is for one of the three hospitals in Wake County to provide a temporary place for the mentally ill to stay. However, a lack of funding is putting that plan on hold.


Paul LaGrone, Reporter
Greg Clark, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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