Prince William County Launches Co-Responder Program to combat mental health crisis

Virginia

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — Just last month alone, Prince William County Police responded to 272 calls related to mental health cases. The Prince William Board of Supervisors agreed to fund a program to make sure they’re handled in the right way.

Jonathan Perok, first sergeant with Prince William County Police Department, said, “We’re trying to approach these types of calls, and these types of incidents very delicately and have that balance between safety and also providing those who are experiencing a crisis with those essential services that they need at a time that they need it.”

For over 20 years, the police department has collaborated with community services. Through the Co-Responder program, both a clinician and an officer who are specially trained will respond to calls together.

Heather Baxter, emergency services program manager, said, “We identified what the criteria will be for people we hire for both police and clinicians. What training they have already had, CIT being number one for both sides, clinician and officers have to go through the 40-hour CIT training. Also, we developed a two-day academy training.”

Right now, there are 701 sworn officers in the police department, but community services can only provide 3 clinicians and a few officers.

“Right now we’re trying to make sure we get enough coverage for the whole area. We’re going to start including some weekend days if we are able to get the expansion but we don’t know what 24/7 looks like yet. We need to figure out what the need is, we need to see how this goes, get our data together and figure out what the community needs,” said Baxter.

If a citizen is experiencing a mental health crisis that requires emergency intervention, they should contact the Public Safety Communications Center by calling 9-1-1 and requesting either a Co-Responder Team or a Crisis Intervention Team officer. Currently, the three Co-Responder Teams are on duty during the daytime and evening hours Monday through Friday.

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