FARMINGTON – Thanks to a grant to help improve mental health wellness, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office created a new position for a dedicated behavioral health deputy.
The position will be held by Deputy David Smith who has worked with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for almost seven years, said Kristi Hughes, spokeswoman for the agency. For the last four years, Smith has held a position as a school resource officer and served as part of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team.
San Juan County received the grant to offer better resources for those who suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues in the community. According to Hughes, over the last three years, the Sheriff’s Office responded to an average of 325 cases classified as crisis intervention calls, with as many as 52 in a single month.
For part of the grant, the Sheriff’s Office was able to secure the position for one full-time behavioral health deputy. The other part of the grant went to the opening of a mental health resource center in Aztec for residents in San Juan County.
“The most needed component in San Juan County is further collaboration between all the players in the mental health arena,” Hughes said. “Each entity has a different role and patients are often left to navigate the system on their own and frequently fall in the cracks between the various services. This grant is an initiative to further streamline the process of getting the folks from that crisis 911 call into immediate services, with a long-term treatment plan.”
Smith will work to collaborate with health agencies, service providers and community members to identify and address local issues related to mental health or substance abuse, Hughes said. In his new position, he will also act as a liaison between other law enforcement agencies, the district attorney’s office, probation and parole officers, community groups, mental health professionals and others in the community who have an interest in crisis intervention.
“I have multiple times where I have used the skills taught to me at the academy to de-escalate a person to a point where they are willing to work with us and are willing to a receive the services we have,” Smith said.
As soon as Smith was put in his new role, he immediately reached out to agencies in the community to get to work.
“(Just) as a crisis intervention team program is extremely important to a police agency, the collaboration between the agency, behavioral health services, the community and the consumers is even more important,” Smith said. “All parts must work together to meet the end goal of providing services and to end a cycle of people in crisis being moved in and out of jail and not receiving the treatment they need to try and normalize their encounters with law enforcement and the general public.”
Sheriff Shane Ferrari said issues balancing crisis intervention team members with their normal patrol duties have been something the department has been anxious to overcome.
“The Sheriff’s Office utilizes our Crisis Intervention Team deputies to assist individuals past the original call to area resources,” Ferrari said. “Our hurdle has been balancing crisis intervention team members’ patrol duties with this additional responsibility. Our new full-time CIT deputy will be dedicated to make our program more efficient and better serve our citizens in need.”