BROOKHAVEN, Ga. - The Brookhaven Police Department has added two mental health professionals to their team.
The clinicians will respond to calls alongside officers to help them handle someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis.
"It is a game-changer," said Lt. Abrem Ayana.
Lt. Ayana knows showing up to a call oftentimes means showing up to a mental health crisis.
"We're going to be called. So, what better thing to have when you're going to be called than a game plan? A game plan and actual resources to respond. So, having the clinicians there, number one, we're one step ahead. We know the crisis is going to happen and we have our expert there to lend us their expertise," he said.
The mental health professionals are a part of the newly formed crisis intervention team.
They'll work closely with officers for at least 40 hours a week, providing on-site help.
Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said this move reflects what some people are calling for.
"It does go back to the people marching in the streets demanding accountability, demanding changes, and shows our furtherance of this," Mayor Ernst said.
Lt. Ayana said this is a resource the department and the public need now more than ever since there has been an uptick in mental health-related calls.
"Believe it or not, since the pandemic, it has become more common for law enforcement," Lt. Ayana said. "We're encountering more homeless people on the streets because a lot of the shelters are not accepting new cases. We're seeing that a lot of people with mental health issues are homeless. So, that's an area we're trying to be more effective in."
The clinicians will also be able to help officers with things like stress management and other difficult incidents.
Most of the officers with the department are trained in mental health crisis, but Lt. Ayana said the clinicians will be able to determine if someone needs further evaluation and mental health assistance.
"What we hope this will do is give officers another tool to de-escalate a crisis, making it safer for the officers, safer for the community. Less use of force and a greater outcome," he said.
This was made possible through a grant from the Department of Justice.
Brookhaven is the second city in the state and the only city in the region to have this kind of partnership with mental help professionals.