Albemarle County Social Services Advisory Board raises concerns, but praises community response team

Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 9:43 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE Co., Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County’s Community Response Team is designed to answer mental health calls and provide a more appropriate response than traditional policing.

The need for the newly-funded unit comes in large part because opioid and alcohol overdoses have significantly increased over the last few years, according to Kaki Dimock, the county’s director of social services. She says they now want to take a new approach to those incidents.

“I’ll tell you right off the bat,” Dimock said to the Albemarle County Social Services Advisory Board on Tuesday, “I think that we’re going to be able to demonstrate fewer people get transported to the jail; fewer people get transported to the hospital.”

Dimock said that’s the goal of the program, which is set to receive its first funding in the upcoming fiscal year. The team is made up of a social worker, a police officer, and a firefighter EMT -- none of them in formal uniforms. They will respond to calls identified by 911 operators as mental health calls.

Though the team has yet to be established, board members have suggestions when it comes to who else should be involved.

“[Community members are] sometimes are distrusting of government services, distrusting of law enforcement in general,” said Mary McIntyre, a board member. “We have a volunteer rescue squad who are allowed to provide medical care, so what about a volunteer mental health squad?”

Dimock said that could be a second-year initiative.

“[That could mean] adding a peer support person into that team, very intentionally based on somebody who has lived experience in both criminal justice and mental health systems,” she said.

There’s also the question of who takes the lead in a group of three, sometimes with different objectives.

“Because a law enforcement officer might say, ‘Well they’re breaking a law right now.’ And a mental health officer might say, ‘Sure they’re breaking a law right now, but they’re also in a mental health crisis,’” McIntyre said.

“Community Response Team is in DSS,” Dimock said. “So we’re very clear that we’re using both fire and police resources in DSS to do this work.”

Members of the Social Services Advisory Board shared their support for the program, calling it “timely” and saying it hopefully can start conversations about how the county responds to crises.

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