(The Center Square) – Behavioral specialists would be allowed to respond with law enforcement to incidents involving people with mental illnesses under a bipartisan bill unanimously approved Thursday by the Georgia Senate.
Mental health advocates have pushed for the program and believe it could divert offenders and reduce crime. Lt. Geoff Duncan, a lead supporter of the measure, said the strategy works successfully in his local district.
“In my home county of Forsyth, I have seen firsthand the impact that behavioral health professionals can have on law enforcement response efforts,” Duncan said. “Pairing law enforcement officers with professionals with specialized training to de-escalate a mental health-related emergency can yield long-term results that increase public safety and provide immediate access to mental health care for those in crises. I applaud my colleagues for prioritizing public safety with innovative and focused strategies.”
Forty-two senators from both sides of the aisle co-sponsored the measure. Senate Bill 403 directs Georgia’s Community Service Boards (CSBs) to provide the behavioral health component of the co-responder program for law enforcement agencies that choose to participate in a co-responder program. The bill cleared the Senate, 53-0.
The co-responder program creates a partnership between mental health experts and first responders when de-escalating emergency situations. It also includes a follow-up system and identifies incarcerated people who may be treated more effectively in a behavioral health facility.
“As a physician with over three decades of experience, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to ensure individuals in a behavioral health crisis receive an appropriate response, appropriate care and consistent follow-up,” Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said.
The bill now heads the House for consideration.