Two Atlanta subway communities are responding to calls about a mental health crisis

Georgia’s new law encourages police to work with mental health professionals. 11 Living investigators are examining departments that are already doing this.

ATLANA – We rely on 911 ambulances. We are counting on the police to calm down the scene. But the mental health crisis is not a car accident or a crime scene.

It unfolds and is confusing. This is emotionally confusing and can take a long time.

Cobb County Officer Jacob King said that should not be the case.

“We have an average of about 90 minutes to handle a crisis call, compared to four to five hours that would have taken me before,” Officer King said.

King said he managed to cut response time by more than half by hiring Matt Deims. Every day, the behavioral health physician sits with King to set up the first mental health team in Cobb County.

Dams admitted that the job was not exactly what he expected. Still, he called it a “great adventure.”


There are already teams in Cobb, Gwyneth, Forsythe or Athens-Clark counties to help. Legislation passed this spring hopes to expand the list. Those who participate in these teams understand why.

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“I saw people in crisis and we sent people to the hospital, to the emergency department. We thought we were helping them, “King said.” And we weren’t, because sometimes we saw them hours, days, weeks later, and they were in the same condition. “

“You have arrested the same people over and over,” said Sergeant Robbie Cochran, who set up the first Athens-Clark County Assistance Team. “It simply came to our notice then that I was not arresting people. It’s been five years since my arrest. “

So far this year, Cobb’s team said it had made only three arrests. This removes the pressure on other parts of the system, while providing the person with the support they need.

“In some cases, they may have called 911 alone or family members may have called three or four times a week,” he explained. “That’s a significant number of times when law enforcement officers, firefighters or ambulance crews come out of these houses.”

King said that after one of Cobb’s teams got involved, 80% never called 911 again.

In Athens-Clark, Sergeant Cochran said about a third of the department’s 911 calls involved some component of mental health. He said he read every police report, about 80,000 so far, to see if there was a reason for his team to follow.

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Athens-Clark County is also working on something new: an alternative response team that will include an EMT and a social worker.

“It takes law enforcement completely out of this,” he said. “It will still come by sending 911, but then the dispatcher will say well, it doesn’t necessarily require a police response.”


Captain John Radford, who runs the 911 Center in Athens Clark County, said each dispatcher has been trained in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to help with triage calls. So it is with almost every officer.

“To recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health episode and to de-escalate situations,” he explained.

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The agency links promotions to training, so if you want to improve your rank and pay, you need to attend advanced behavioral health training that goes beyond CIT.

Both Athena-Clark and Cobb hope to go a step further and add a social worker to the dispatch team to handle mental health calls. Atlanta police are also investigating the idea. Cobb looks furthest in the process with a suggestion on how to do it on the spot. Now it just needs funding.


While correspondents, alternative response teams and built-in clinicians are helpful ideas when sending, there is a problem facing any community trying to build their programs, according to Melanie Dallas, CEO of Highland Rivers Behavioral Health.

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“We are dealing with the biggest labor shortage we have had in the 34 years I have been in this field,” she said. “And we see an influx of people in crisis and in critical need that we haven’t seen before.”

Highland Rivers has a contract to manage community service councils (CSBs) in the northwestern part of the state. CSB assistance takes care of the uninsured and underinsured. Dallas cites low pay and high burn rates as part of the staffing problem.

Both Cobb and Athena-Clark have said they would like to expand the number of teams in charge so that they can deal with crises later in the evening and on weekends. They have employees, but they can’t find the clinicians.

In addition to pay, Cochran said there may be other concerns for clinicians considering these new types of mental health work.

“I think that’s the unknown,” he said. “They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.”

Instead of an office, these clinicians work in the field, facing the crisis as it happens. This is a relatively new job, so it is not always clear what to expect and the hours are not always traditional.


After the crisis comes calm. The chance not just to save a life, but to change it.

Dallas said she was grateful that mental health had attracted so much attention this year in the legislature, but said talks should continue.

“We need to have a local, regional and national long-term vision of how we will impact mental health services in our communities,” she said.

She said she hoped Georgia was on the right track.

“This year has been a stellar year for mental health discussions,” she said. “We must continue on this course. We will not change and change a system that is under capacity with one call and two accounts. “

# Storage is an investigative series that uncovers gaps in Georgia’s mental health system that lead to thousands of children being placed in state custody.

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