The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office has taken a significant step toward better addressing mental health-related calls by establishing a specialized team with the aid of a federal grant. Sheriff Mark Garber revealed the initiative at a press conference, emphasizing the changing landscape of law enforcement in response to public expectations. This is a huge win for the Lafayette community.

The Current reported that Sheriff Garber highlighted the need for law enforcement to evolve, focusing on improved de-escalation techniques and emotional intelligence in handling sensitive situations. He stressed the necessity for a shift toward being more adept at diffusing tensions and addressing mental health crises effectively.

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Alena Maschke explains that since early November, the newly formed team, comprising two mental health professionals working alongside deputies, has been deployed 29 times, exhibiting commendable success stories. Sheriff Garber cited an incident involving a distressed military veteran in Carencro threatening suicide. When law enforcement arrived, the mental health professionals played a pivotal role in coaxing the individual out and facilitating their transport to receive specialized care at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

Sheriff Garber underscored the primary goal of the initiative: de-escalation, reducing the use of force, minimizing injuries to both officers and the public, and ultimately, saving lives.

Recognizing the limitations of law enforcement as the sole solution to mental health crises, Sheriff Garber stated, “You’re trying to maintain a force of men and women who are going to be ready at a moment’s notice to run toward the sound of gunfire… It’s really not fair to the profession to expect us to single-handedly be the solution to all these different problems.”

Lafayette Parish Sheriffs Office Facebook
Lafayette Parish Sheriffs Office Facebook
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The funding, a $290,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, enabled the Sheriff's Office to hire dedicated mental health professionals without compromising existing law enforcement resources. Lafayette Parish was among 23 chosen localities for this grant in 2023, facilitating the realization of a long-standing aspiration for Sheriff Garber.

However, this initiative doesn't negate the importance of diversion programs that were previously cut due to budget constraints in 2019. Sheriff Garber expressed his desire to reinstate these programs, acknowledging their positive impact on prison reform and reintegration. He emphasized the significance of diversion as an alternative to strict incarceration, aiming for more constructive outcomes.

Moreover, the initiative intends to follow up with individuals encountered by the team to ensure ongoing support and prevent recurrent crises. Sheriff Garber emphasized the focus on providing necessary resources and continuous assistance to those in need.

In essence, the establishment of this specialized team marks a significant stride towards a more holistic approach in handling mental health crises, reflecting law enforcement’s commitment to evolving strategies and addressing community needs beyond traditional enforcement measures.

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Gallery Credit: Sydney DuCharme

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