CUMBERLAND, Ind.-- A small police department is working to make a big impact in the lives of people struggling with mental health.
This month, Cumberland Metropolitan Police Department launched the CARE Unit, or Cumberland Assertive Response and Engagement Team. It is a behavioral and mental health unit that works to connect people with resources using community partnerships.
"As a police officer you try to remove yourself emotionally but it definitely takes on you," Officer Austin Holtz said. "It's tough to see someone who is struggling and needs help and doesn't necessarily know to get it and all the avenues of getting it."
Holtz said it's not uncommon to encounter someone dealing with mental health issues.
Last year, the department said it had 30 locations and/or individuals where officers responded and mental health was involved. Of those, five they had been to multiple times. Police said last year there were 23 cases of suicide or attempted suicide. In total, they invested about 200 hours of time into individuals.
The goal of the CARE Unit is to help reduce the number of repeat calls, prevent unnecessary arrest and incarceration for people with a mental illness, reduce repeat immediate detentions and help people get connected to resources that may help.
It was formed under an advisory committee of different stakeholders, including hospitals, town leaders and others impacted.
"After we encounter someone like that whether they were irate, yelling, screaming or crying out for help or even made a phone call and say I'm feeling funny I'm out of my medication, I've been off for a few days, we'll come out and we'll evaluate the situation," Sgt. Jimmy Law said.
The CARE Unit will follow up, in part with trained chaplains, and utilize the expertise of public safety, mental health, and health professionals.
"One of the things that we'll be doing is the chaplains of the department is coming in once a week and making follow up calls with individuals that have been identified as needing some help and we'll have some resources that we can try to get them connected to," Chaplain Tom Scott said.
Police will also pass out door hangers and mail flyers. Once the triage is done, they'll determine what next steps might entail, including whether to go knock on a door and have more conversations.
"We're gonna help them build the map, figure out the map, what routes to take to get to another point of you know dealing with their mental illness," Holtz said.
The department also plans to offer mental health first aid classes in the coming months.