Franklin County Sheriff says new unit would help mentally ill

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Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin says the number of probate orders has skyrocketed in the past few years.

A probate order is a court order requiring a person who may be suffering from a mental illness to receive a psychological evaluation. It is often initiated by a concerned family member who wants a loved one to receive help.

In 2015, sheriff's deputies served 650 probates. The next year that number climbed to 860. In 2017, the sheriff projects the number to reach 1,300.

The Franklin County Sheriff's SWAT team is tasked with serving all those probate orders, which often prevents highly trained tactical officers from focusing on arresting wanted, dangerous felons.

Sheriff Baldwin said once his deputies deliver someone to a mental health facility, there is no legal means to stop that person from walking right back out the door.

The sheriff said people suffering mental illness who go untreated sometimes commit what he calls "crimes of survival" and end up behind bars.

Sheriff Baldwin said his office receives calls almost daily from concerned family members.

"Our hearts go out to them because they're at their wits end. They've tried and tried and they end up incarcerated and we're trying to deal with it," said Sheriff Baldwin.

Baldwin estimates one-third of people behind bars at the Franklin County Jail suffer from some form of mental illness.

Now, the sheriff is seeking to create a Crisis Intervention Diversion Unit or CID. It would be comprised of a team of deputies with advanced training to help people in crisis.

The unit would not only serve probates, but work closely with mental health professionals in Franklin County, and develop ongoing relationships to make sure the people they come into contact with are receiving ongoing mental health services and support.

"The goal being we get them in the right program and we don't have them re-offending. We don't have them cycling through the process over and over and going back through the jail because they're not being treated appropriately," said Sheriff Baldwin.

The sheriff said he hopes to have the CID team in operation by the spring of 2018. Baldwin said the FCSO SWAT team will continue to serve probates at the homes of people who may be armed and dangerous.