Franklin County probates prevent SWAT from catching criminals

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The Franklin County Sheriff's SWAT team is trained to take down dangerous felons, but recently, the bad guys are taking a back seat to people suffering from mental illness.

The team is tasked with serving probates. A probate is a court order for a person to undergo a psychological exam.

Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said it's become a full-time job.

"The probates continue to skyrocket. They're going higher and higher and it's a drain on our resources to actually serve them," said Franklin County Sheriff Baldwin.

Since 2007, the number of probates served in Franklin County skyrocketed from 145 to 899 through October of last year. It's an increase of more than 500 percent.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office says the spike is making it nearly impossible for SWAT to focus its efforts on arresting wanted fugitives, or doing covert surveillance in neighborhoods plagued by drugs and crime.

Case in point, when 10TV first started featuring the Monday's Most Wanted segment in 2012, the rate of capture was astonishing.

In 2014, the sheriff's SWAT team rounded up 45 of the 48 fugitives featured on 10TV. It's a 93 percent success rate.

Fast forward to 2017, and that number falls to less than 67 percent.

Franklin County Administrator Kenneth Wilson said he believes there is a solution.

"In Franklin County, I would like to think we are taking a smarter approach," said Wilson.

That includes the creation of a Franklin County Sheriff's Crisis Intervention and Diversion Team, or CID, a unit comprised of one sergeant and four deputies who would receive specialized training, and solely focus efforts on people who are suffering mental illness.

Wilson said the unit would work closely with the courts, hospitals, and mental health care providers to offer an opportunity for ongoing support, treatment, and services.

Sheriff Baldwin said he estimates one-third of the jail population suffers mental illness.

The ultimate goal of CID is to reduce not only the number of probates but the number of people suffering mental illness who get caught up in the system's revolving door.

"They are out for a short period of time, commit a low-level offense, and they're back into our facility," said Wilson.

Franklin County is hopeful the CID unit will make a lasting difference in the lives of people who need help, not handcuffs.

Wilson said the first phase of CID is expected to begin operations this year, with the hope of growing the unit to 11 members by 2022.

Sheriff Baldwin said SWAT would still serve probates to any individuals identified by the court as potentially armed and dangerous.