CMPD pairing officers with social workers to help de-escalate mental health calls

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers never know what type of situations they'll encounter when someone calls 911.

[PAST COVERAGE: City leaders approves $3.5M contract allowing mental health experts to ride along with CMPD]

Last year, more than 800 calls involved someone struggling with mental health issues, and now, the department is launching a new program to better handle those calls.

Channel 9's Elsa Gillis learned CMPD will launch its crisis response team in April.

The program is composed of six teams of two, each consisting of one crisis intervention-trained officer and a fully licensed clinical social worker.

The teams will be available 24/7 and will be called when police encounter someone in crisis.

Officials said the hope is that together, they can better de-escalate situations before they become violent, and also that they proactively help people who are struggling.

Police were called to a south Charlotte home six years ago where Spencer Mims, 55, was holding a box cutter to his throat.

A police officer shot and killed Mims minutes later after officials said he lunged at the officer with the blade.

"It's still a big sorrow for them to have lost a brother, son," attorney Luke Largess said.

That case comes to mind as resources will become available for such a crisis.

"It was our position in the case that we filed if a team like that had been available, had responded, then Mr. Mims may not have died," Largess, who represents Mims' family, said.

The social workers will follow up and reach out to known households where someone has a mental illness to connect them with resources and ensure they are taking their medication.

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CMPD is partnering with CriSyS Mecklenburg County Mobile Crisis Services to provide the clinicians, and Chief Kerr Putney said they will undergo training to be able to handle potential crisis situations.

"An encounter with police can be scary for any of us, and so, that fear is intensified when we have an individual who is struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder," CriSyS President Keshia Ginn said.

Putney said the initiative is a big deal that could save lives.

"We’ve accomplished our goal when we're not incarcerating people who are in crisis based on behavioral or mental issues," said Putney.

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