Pinellas County sheriff to announce changes to Mental Health Unit, response to calls for service

Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday they are going to make changes to their Mental Health Unit and how they respond to calls for service.

Wednesday the Pinellas County Sheriff added resources to their Mental Health Unit. “Today we stop doing it the way we’ve always done it to get a better result,” said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Sheriff Gualtieri continued, “Trying to make cops mental health professionals is like jamming a square peg into a round hole”.

He said to make a change, 14 employees are being added to the Mental Health Unit, a Sergeant and Corporal overseeing 6 teams, each with a deputy and crisis response specialist.

The sheriff said the new pilot program will run from noon to midnight when most mental health calls occur.

He said the change is necessary. “Asking a cop at 3:00 am to do differential diagnosis to figure out solutions to an emotional crisis that caused someone to lash out is unrealistic. It set the cops up for failure which is unfair to the cops and many times setting the person up who is suffering from a mental illness for a ride to the county jail or to a baker act facility,” Sheriff Gualtieri said.

The pilot program begins in a few weeks in the unincorporated areas of mid-Pinellas county between Park Blvd. and State Road 580.

The sheriff hopes to expand the program further around the county the new year.

“We will have better outcomes that keep people out of jails and out of the baker act system that don’t need to be there,” said Sheriff Gualtieri.

“I think that is excellent,” said Robin Hunter of Treasure Island who supports the change.

Hunter is looking to raise awareness and provide support for mental illnesses says she’s thrilled to hear the sheriff’s office is making changes to their protocols.

“Mental health is important and if they could be responded to differently the outcome definitely could be different,” Robin Hunter said.

News Channel 8’s Christine McLarty spoke with Robin Hunter, who said the website for her movement “ShareLoveNotHate” just went live Tuesday with the message of being kind and respecting each other’s differences.

“With the latest political stuff going on we all really need to work together to be kind citizens. I do think kindness is contagious,” Hunter said.

“I haven’t gotten a lot of support about supporting our differences because I think a lot of people are angry at the other side so what I would like is for them to open their mind tonight and think about how our country can be better. it’s not a matter of black or white, republican or democrat, young or old…I think it’s time to get back to our old school feeling that you have to be kind to your neighbor,” Hunter said.

Hunter said she’s selling shirts and bracelets with all proceeds benefiting the Jed Foundation, in support of mental illness and suicide prevention for teens and young adults. 

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