TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Tampa Police Department is working on a unique project to help officers as they respond to calls involving mental health and it’s the first of its kind for the agency.

TPD is developing a pilot program where mental health professionals ride along with officers to determine what course of action should be taken for citizens who are struggling with behavioral health issues.

When it comes to law enforcement answering calls in the year 2021, Tampa police says it boils down to while police are first responders, they can’t be the only responder.

When law enforcement officers rush to a scene, they never truly know what they’ll encounter, including those who suffer from mental health issues.

In fact, in 2020 the number of calls involving mental health grew dramatically.

Officials with the Tampa Police Department tell 8 On Your Side they responded to 100 calls per week during the year where behavioral health intervention was needed.

So, the city decided to try something different, something new for the agency to help officers on the job.

Tampa Police Officer Alexandra Ramos has been on the force for five years and says this kind of program is definitely needed, so recently she’s been responding to calls with a licensed mental professional in her patrol car, and together they’re gathering data.

They’re also having deep, meaningful conversations about how best to serve, protect and help the public.

“Being able to bounce ideas off each other. In law enforcement, we only see one side,” Officer Ramos said. “So, being able to ride along with somebody that knows the other side is really beneficial for law enforcement.”

Mollie Beattie is a licensed mental health clinician and says she’s learned a lot in recent days.

“I think for me just not knowing what you’re rolling up to and not knowing what’s next has been eye-opening and gave me an even greater respect for law enforcement because we don’t know what’s happening next,” Beattie said. “That’s been very very interesting.”

The unique thing about Tampa is the number of behavioral health locations available to help people.

Four of them are partnering with Tampa Police on this project.

They include the Agency for Community Treatment Services, also known as ACTS, in addition to Gracepoint Wellness, Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office (DACCO) and BayCare Health.

The program has been in development for roughly six months after a recommendation by the mayor’s task office force.

According to Tampa police, the next step will be the entities meeting sometime in the next two weeks to discuss findings and formulate a pilot program based on experience that best suits our community.