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Senate: Mental health workers should aid some police calls

March 3, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia mental health agencies would provide workers to help respond to police calls about people with mental health crises under a bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday.

The Senate voted 53-0 for Senate Bill 403, sending it to the House for more debate.

The measure would require the state’s 23 community service boards to provide co-responders to any local law enforcement agency that wants them. Workers would respond either in-person or virtually. Officers would be able to refer someone to a treatment facility rather than arrest them.

Police departments and sheriffs would not be required to use the service.

Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican, said such services are currently available in six or seven jurisdictions statewide. He said that in Athens-Clarke County, the share of people being arrested by police responding to mental health calls fell from 90% to 10% after such a program was in place.

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“So they’re not going to jail, they’re going to a place where they can be plugged back into the system appropriately,” Watson said.

Lawmakers would have to provide funding for the program separately. Some of it could be funded by federal grants.

The measure also calls for community service boards to establish follow-up procedures, including contacting the subjects of a mental health police call within two days, regardless of whether the person was arrested. Local agencies could make recommendations to sheriffs and police chiefs about people who could be more effectively treated outside of jail and make recommendations about treatment.