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Holes in mental health funding putting police officers on the front line

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Updated: 12/20/2012 7:12 pm
Jacksonville, Fla.--  With Florida at the bottom for mental health spending, police and corrections officers often find themselves dealing with people who have mental illnesses.

In the week since the Connecticut shooting, holes in the mental health system were exposed. According to a recent report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Florida is near the bottom in terms of mental health spending. This year alone, budget cuts slashed $12 million from the budget to help the mentally ill in Florida.

Often it's police and corrections officers dealing with people who have serious mental illnesses. Sheriff Rutherford with JSO says that's another problem. "People can't get the mental health care that they need and you see these kinds of things," said Rutherford.
Just this week, Bradford County Sheriff's deputies were faced with a choice. They could either arrest James Fields or Baker Act him. That means they would send him to a mental health facility for 72 hours. Investigators say Fields called Governor Scott's office 13 times, leaving threatening voice mails to harm children. It's not the first time they've dealt with Fields. So deputies knew he needed help.

Chuck Mulligan with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office says many counties are in a tough spot. "The office is limited in the role of how far they can go," said Mulligan. "Some individuals in the jail have mental issues. It's the type of situation where, in many cases, the crimes they commit are lower level and we understand it's a factor."

Sheriff Rutherford says the tragedy in Connecticut should be an eye-opener for a lot of things, including mental health. "What we need to be addressing is how we treat mental health in this community," said Rutherford.

In the Bradford County case, Fields is currently in jail on $250,000 bond. If he does bond out, he has to undergo an mental evaluation first. Based on that, a judge or doctor would determine whether he needs to be institutionalized.
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