Norcross to hire mental health clinician to assist police

Norcross will add a behavioral health clinician to respond to mental health crises with officers. (Courtesy City of Norcross)

Credit: City of Norcross

Credit: City of Norcross

Norcross will add a behavioral health clinician to respond to mental health crises with officers. (Courtesy City of Norcross)

A clinician dressed in civilian clothes will soon begin responding to mental health crises alongside Norcross police officers.

City Council agreed during a Monday meeting to partner with a local organization to embed a certified health clinician within Norcross Police Department. The clinician will focus on deescalating mental health crises and connecting individuals with resources for counseling and other services.

The addition will cost the Gwinnett city about $62,000 per year, said Police Chief Bill Grogan during the Monday meeting. The clinician will be an employee of View Point Health, a service provider based in the county.

“I think it’s going to really help our community and help keep us safe,” said Councilmember Andrew Hixson before the vote. “And it’s going to help keep our officers safe.”

A mental health crisis typically involves a situation in which an individual’s mental state results in behavior that puts them at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. These crises may involve other issues such as homelessness or substance abuse.

Grogan stressed that officers will secure an area before the clinician arrives on the scene. The department still needs to work with View Point Health to hire the city’s clinician, he said, expecting to start operating the new model within six months.

The clinician will work 40 hours each week, Grogan said. He expects the clinician to work in shifts from 2 p.m.-10 p.m., the peak hours for service calls related to mental health crises.

Police officers have recently been saddled with more and more calls related to mental health, Grogan said, despite not being well-equipped to handle them. About one out of every eight calls for service in Norcross involves a mental health crisis, he said.

“We’ll get free training out of this, just by the mere fact of standing next to the person during a crisis,” said Grogan at an October work session meeting. “Learning what they’re doing is priceless.”

Brookhaven, Johns Creek and Lawrenceville are among the metro Atlanta cities that already send clinicians out with officers, known as a “co-responder model.”

The city might hire additional clinicians based on the success of the program, Grogan said. He expects all of the police departments within Gwinnett County to bring on clinicians to work alongside their officers in the near future.

The addition of mental health specialists to police departments can reduce incarceration and recidivism within communities. More than 100 individuals in Lawrenceville have avoided jail time since the introduction of clinicians within its department, according to Police Chief Tim Wallis.

“We’re trying to be forward thinking in how we address people in our community and recognizing that mental health is a real thing,” Councilmember Matt Myers told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in October