Polk Law Enforcement Agencies Add New Mental Health Officers

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Polk County, like the rest of the country, is seeing an increase in mental health calls.

There were 298 Baker Act calls to the Winter Haven Police Department in 2020, this number increased to 410 in 2021.

“When we Baker Act someone, we follow up with them. Go out and contact them again. We make sure you have your doctor’s appointment. Are you taking your meds?” Winter Haven Police Chief David Brennan said.

Winter Haven Director of Public Safety Charlie Bird said many times officers respond to the same people, in the throes of a mental health crisis.

“What happens is we go out, we act Baker or they go to the hospital. As soon as they get out, there are no support services, so they don’t end up in that situation,” Bird said.

That’s why the Winter Haven Police Department hires a full-time Certified Clinical Social Worker. The city commission on Monday approved additional funding for the new position.

“We bring this person in, and they will help with these follow-ups and outings. Also, they will have more access to services in partnership with BayCare, Peace River, those types of organizations,” Brennan said.

A recent Polk Vision study found that the ratio of population to mental health care providers in Polk is 1,190 to 1.

“Look, there’s a problem when your local sheriff runs the largest mental health facility in the county,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Judd creates a new position of Director of Mental Health Services. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is also testing a new program where it connects people with services at the Peace River Center.

“We take them to a mental health facility, we relay the information to Peace River. In our beta test, we reduced repeat calls by 22%,” Judd said.

About Michael C. Lovelace

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