Pilot program in Orange County to de-escalate situations using mental-health experts a ‘success,’ receives more funding – WFTV

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Some success stories from a new unit at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are starting to surface.

In December, Channel 9 told you about a pilot program that sends mental health clinicians out with deputies to de-escalate situations that have typically ended in arrest in the past.

The program pairs clinicians in blue shirts with deputies to de-escalate situations and help people get the services they need, hopefully without arrest or hospitalization.

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The University of Central Florida evaluated the program’s first two months and found the team received 700 mental health referrals, responded to more than 250 calls for service and issued 16 Baker Acts with zero arrests.

“Although the unit is small right now and can’t fit the needs of the entire community, just based on those success stories … we already believe the program is a success,” Sheriff John Mina said.

Orange County commissioners approved $115,000 to be used on salaries for the clinicians, so the pilot program can continue for the rest of the year.

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Mina said he plans to expand the program in the future so the team can work around the clock and not just evenings and some weekends.

Mental health issues are on the rise in Orange County. Since the start of the pandemic, depression and anxiety are up 31%, and substance abuse is up 13%.

READ: Orlando launching pilot program to send mental health professionals to nonviolent calls for service

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