Sheriff Israel: Mental Illness is Not a Crime

Sheriff Scott Israel at his swearing-in ceremony in January. Photo courtesy BSO.

Sheriff Scott Israel at his swearing-in ceremony in January. Photo courtesy BSO.

A Message from Sheriff Scott Israel:

Most of us have been touched in our lives by someone struggling with mental health illness or substance abuse issues. The deep personal pain of watching helplessly as our closest family members and friends spiral out of control is devastating.

The fact is that nearly one in six young Americans will struggle with mental illness in their lifetime. As I often say, these are people with problems, not problem people. These illnesses and/or addictions are a disease, not an indication of someone’s worth in our society. In fact, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill both suffered from what is now today called clinical depression.

Incarceration is the least effect solution

Sadly, those suffering – often silently – can find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Too frequently, the criminal justice system treated these individuals as criminals and locked them in jail – often for relatively minor offenses. My experience has shown that arresting a person with mental health issues does not address the problem. Instead, it adds to the problems the individual is already facing. Mental illness is not a crime, and incarceration – the most expensive social service option – is the least effective solution.

At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, addressing this issue is paramount, and diverting certain non-violent individuals into treatment (instead of incarceration) is our key objective. Already, we made great strides in tackling this public safety concern through proactive community policing, including increasing the number of deputies with Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). CIT provides a non-violent solution focused upon de-escalating and assisting, not arresting.

Grant money will now help divert individuals

Recently, the community received a massive boost to the tune of a nearly $22 million grant from the Florida Department of Children and Families to establish a comprehensive system of behavioral health care via a new, specialized Centralized Receiving Facility. In partnership with Henderson Behavioral Health and other behavioral health providers, the facility will provide law enforcement officials with a one-stop assessment center for individuals they encounter exhibiting signs of mental illness or experiencing a crisis that requires mental health evaluation, intervention, and treatment. It will assist in determining if certain individuals can be successfully diverted from arrest, incarceration and criminal prosecution.

Staffed 24/7/365 by human services professionals specializing in security, mental health, substance abuse, homeless services and case management, the center will focus on properly assessing individuals and linking them with appropriate, proven community providers for the help they need. BSO will remain in direct contact with these individuals and chart their progress through a continuum of care. We hope to deploy several centers strategically throughout the county in the coming months.

Center will decrease the rearrest rate

It’s a win-win for both those struggling with mental illness and the community as a whole. The center will help increase behavioral health programming and services to at-risk individuals in a community setting – not behind bars. It will also have the added benefit of driving down the rearrest rate – leading to increased public safety gains – while reducing our jail population, where taxpayers shell out nearly $120 per day to keep each prisoner incarcerated.

Individuals suffering from mental health illness deserve our support in helping them overcome their difficult situation – and I am excited for what this initiative will bring.

Sheriff Scott Israel

Certain Broward cities like Pembroke Pines, Sunrise, Plantation, Davie, Miramar, Lauderhill and Coral Springs maintain their own police departments, however, BSO does provide communications and dispatch services to the following cities: Central Broward, Cooper City, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Ft Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Airport, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Lauderdale Lakes, North Lauderdale. Oakland Park, Parkland, Pembroke Park, West Park, Pompano Beach, Port Everglades, Tamarac, Weston and unincorporated West Broward.