In its first year of operation, the Melbourne Police Department’s Mobile Joint Crisis Response Team (MRT) has exceeded expectations and helped improve police-community relations by providing a much-needed service that was lacking before the program was established.
The MRT program is the first of its kind in Brevard County. It launches in June 2022 when Melbourne City Council approves a three-year partnership with Central Florida Cares Health System Inc. and Brevard Family Partnership/Brevard CARES. By January 2023, the team was fully staffed with a program manager, one therapist, two care coordinators and one peer support specialist. An additional therapist joined the team in May.
“The partnership between the Melbourne Police Department and Brevard CARES has been a power multiplier for our community by providing additional resources for our vulnerable populations,” said Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie. “MRT is partnering social workers with police officers to expand services to those in need. This partnership is a model for other agencies and a great example of the success we can achieve when we work together.”
Many residents experiencing a mental health crisis have been helped by the MRT since the full team was on site. MRT has been able to de-escalate situations, help divert those experiencing a mental health crisis from custody, and provide ongoing case management and resources to those who need them. In September 2023 alone, the MRT was dispatched to respond to a crisis situation 49 times, and 45 of those individuals agreed to receive additional ongoing assistance from the team. MRT also helped seven new clients experiencing homelessness and made 400 contacts with new and existing clients during the month.
There are some residents who, due to mental illness, regularly call 911 for help, believing they are in danger or being attacked. In the past, when officers responded to such calls and determined there was no actual danger or crime committed, there was nothing they could do to help. They can now offer the services of MRT, who can provide them with crisis intervention, counseling support and refer them to resources they did not have access to before. Often instead of calling 911, they will now call an MRT member for help. This has reduced the number of calls coming into the Communication Center from repeat callers who do not have an immediate need for police assistance and has provided a better service to those with mental health problems by connecting them with trained clinical staff who can to provide the care they need.
The MRT team partners with various agencies in the area to help others MPD responds to by connecting them to resources that are available in our community. For example, they have been able to help those experiencing homelessness find services that can help them secure stable housing and those in domestic violence situations access resources to help them move to a safe place.
While the partnership with Central Florida Cares Health System is focused on adults, MRT members also help MPD school resource officers address mental health issues on their campuses by providing assistance to students and families. In schools where multiple calls for services have been generated in the past, they have been able to identify the need for services for children and their families and are now in direct contact with principals and other school staff. This has helped reduce the number of calls for police service at schools.
MRT members are proactive in their work to address issues and are fully committed to the success of the program. The MRT’s effectiveness has been recognized by other agencies that have worked with the team on calls for service near border jurisdictions. Central Florida Cares is now working to expand the program to other neighboring communities to spread mental health support throughout the county.
“The team does good clinical work that has a significant impact on the community,” said Abby Pease, program manager for MRT. “Going into the second year of the program, we are motivated to improve efficiency and increase the number of people reached in our community. We will continue to reach out, educate and provide resources to reduce the stigma of mental health and increase the availability of services.
“This partnership collaboration has been extremely helpful for individuals and their families experiencing a mental health crisis by providing immediate services in the community,” said Maria Bledsoe, CEO of Central Florida Cares.
In recognition of their outstanding work, members of the mobile response team received certificates of appreciation. Pictured left to right in the back row are Commander Mark Renkens; Constable Mark Lang; Chief David Gillespie; Abby Pease, LCSW; Sergeant Marty Miller; Randy Goebel; Sergeant Ben Slover; Lt. Steve Sadoff. In the front row are Faith Hartsock; Marley Fallon, RCSWI; Teresa Parnell; Marjan Nagawi, RMHCI.