A program that pairs mental health workers with police to help deal with people in crisis is being expanded.
The so-called “co-responder unit” in Prince William County, Virginia, already has three police officers, each paired with an emergency service clinician, said county police Lt. Michael Day.
He said that now, under a new budget passed by the county board this week, the unit will be able to add three additional clinicians and three additional officers, as well as a police supervisor.
“It is very, very nice to have that clinician there with us,” Day said.
The model that the county uses pairs an officer trained in crisis management with a master’s-level mental health clinician. The goal is to de-escalate situations involving a person experiencing a mental health crisis.
Day said that on one call he went on involving a person in crisis, “the person was able to really focus on the clinician, was able to calm down.”
The team is also responsible for following up with people it has helped.
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler also backs the program.
“This really is a diversion from incarceration and even hospitalization, to be able to talk a person through a crisis right on the spot,” she said.
The county said that if someone is experiencing a mental health emergency, they should call 911 and ask for either a co-responder team or a crisis intervention team officer. There are three teams available during the day and evening from Monday through Friday.
The expansion of the program was part of a budget passed Tuesday that goes into effect in July.
WTOP’s Hannah Parker contributed to this report.