HOW WE SERVE
Our Approach to Mental Illness
April 26, 2021
Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman is pleased to announce the expansion of the agency’s How We Serve campaign to highlight how deputies are serving those experiencing mental illness.
How We Serve: Defining the Culture of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office was released June 16, 2020, just more than two weeks after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The document was created in response to the national conversation about police use of force and demand from many advocacy groups to reform law enforcement policies. The document was shared with the public through the agency’s social media accounts and garnered significant media coverage.
To continue the conversation about law enforcement best practices and how the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office serves its community, the How We Serve campaign has expanded to incorporate the unique ways the agency is treating vulnerable populations. In How We Serve: Our Approach to Mental Illness, the sheriff’s office shares information about crucial mental health training that sworn law enforcement and corrections deputies, 911 operators, and members of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) receive. The campaign also highlights the agency’s partnerships with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Community Assisted & Supported Living, Inc. (CASL), and First Step of Sarasota.
Correctional programs including a 12-week mental health curriculum and the agency’s Collaborative Approach to Reintegration through Education (C.A.R.E.) Pod are featured on the second page of the document. The document also includes the integration of Mental Health First Aid training into the requirements for all sworn and civilian sheriff’s office members.
To learn about each element of the How We Serve: Our Approach to Mental Illness campaign, scroll down through this page. Please click on the links we share and become part of the conversation by using the hashtag #SCSOHowWeServe on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Our Training Section partners heavily with social service organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) to educate deputies on a variety of challenges they may face during a “typical” shift. Instruction ranges from helping deputies learn how to identify signs of autism to all levels of Crisis Intervention. We believe to best prepare our members for any situation they may face, we must train them for any situation they may face.
Mental Health First Aid Training teaches how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The 8-hour training provides skills needed to reach out and provide initial support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem and help connect them to the appropriate care. In the fall of 2020, the sheriff’s office selected 15 members to become certified as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructors. Upon completion of their program, these members began instructing all sworn law enforcement and corrections deputies as part of an annual in-service training. MHFA is also being taught to every civilian member of the agency and will eventually be incorporated into new employee orientation.
Crisis Intervention Training is designed to assist deputies with handling, dealing with, and de-escalating incidents that may have a significant impact on the person they are communicating with. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has prioritized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) since 2016 when the agency’s Training Lieutenant became one of only 80 Certified CIT Coordinators worldwide. To date, more than 430 sheriff’s office members including sworn law enforcement and corrections deputies as well as members of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and Public Safety Communications (PSC) Center, have received 40 hours of CIT Training.
The sheriff’s office recently became liaison to the First Step of Sarasota's Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT) which utilizes experienced, Masters-level, and licensed clinicians in partnership with the medical and law enforcement community, to provide therapeutic interventions in the community.
Every single current member of the sheriff’s office has taken a Mental Health Awareness/PTSD Course which is designed specifically for law enforcement and corrections deputies. The course covers a basic review of communication skills, introduction to common mental illnesses including PTSD, and reviews the provisions of the Baker Act – specifically relating to law enforcement. The sheriff’s office integrated this course into our training in 2018.
De-escalation techniques were incorporated in 2018 into all use of force and levels of resistance courses to include use of firearms, tasers, batons, and OC spray. In 2020, sheriff’s office training members attended L.E.A.D.S.: Law Enforcement Active De-escalation Strategies with Implicit Bias three-day instructor course and began instructing all sworn members in 2021.
TREATING MENTAL ILLNESS BEHIND BARS
A 12-week mental health program is offered to inmates serving time in the correctional facility. Curriculum includes the connection between substance use and mental health, information regarding varying mental health disorders, access to and the importance of taking medication, and more. The program also discusses motives and consequences of substance abuse, principles of treatment, feelings, and emotions, coping skills, life skills, triggers, relapse prevention, and how to continue treatment upon release.
Inmates serving time in the Sarasota County Correctional Facility may be qualified for housing in the Collaborative Approach to Reintegration through Education (C.A.R.E.) Pod, a 48-bed unit dedicated to high-needs mental health detainees. The C.A.R.E. Pod provides individuals with chronic and persistent mental health conditions an environment conducive to reintegration into society. C.A.R.E. focuses on medication compliance, healthy coping strategies, and effective communication skills. Licensed Mental Health Counselors meet with residents daily to conduct group counseling and provide individualized treatment sessions.
The sheriff’s office takes the mental health of inmates seriously and believes the purpose of a correctional facility is not just confinement but more importantly, rehabilitation. This is why the sheriff’s office partners with our medical provider to ensure the following personnel are assigned to the facility:
- Two full-time contracted Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC)
- One part-time contracted LMHC
- One contracted Mental Health Discharge Planner
- One part-time contracted psychiatrist
- One part-time contracted psychiatric nurse practitioner
The Transitions program was created thanks to a partnership between the sheriff’s office and Community Assisted & Supported Living, Inc. (CASL). It is funded by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Transitions provides five beds for incarcerated individuals experiencing mental health issues and facing homelessness upon release. These individuals are identified through the sheriff’s office Re-entry Navigator program prior to their release and then screened by CASL for placement. As individuals become more self-sustaining, they may become eligible for permanent housing through CASL.