SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Shelby County deputies will soon have backup on some calls.

Right now, Shelby County Sheriff’s Crisis Intervention Team responds to mental health crisis calls. They are a group trained to respond and assist individuals going through a mental health crisis and keep it from becoming potentially dangerous.

The team goes through 40 hours worth of training conducted by Deputy Sam Cochran.

“[They learn] not only about the illnesses that often times are coming into crisis events, but also enhancing an awareness of what we refer to as de-esclataion,” he said.

Memphis Police and mental health providers developed the CIT program decades ago.

Sheriff Floyd Bonner says it’s been a great starting point.

“Forty hours is only scratching the surface,” he said.

Bonner worked with the Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’s office to launch a new program with federal funds. Now, in addition to CIT deputies, a trained mental health professional will also respond to the crisis.

Those professionals will be on call and have their own car.

Basically, the deputy’s job will be securing the scene.

“And then handing it off to a professional, a licensed professional, who is trained extensively to deal with the de-escalation, the counseling piece, the connecting to service piece,” Michael Sims said. “That service could include a referral to an outpatient clinic as well as connection to housing or connection to case manager to get them connected to disability or to insurance.”

Sims is with Alliance Healthcare Services that’s providing the licensed professionals. His team will also do checkups in between calls to make sure the services are being used.

The sheriff’s office says about 2 to 4 percent of total calls are related to mental health or behavioral issues, but that’s likely low. The calls are sometimes classified differently when they come in.

Some studies suggest the number could be closer to 20 percent.

What’s clear is that the calls are among the most complex to resolve. It can keep deputies from other emergencies.

“There’s nothing worse for law enforcement to be faced with difficult challenges and difficult circumstances and feel like they’re not getting anywhere,” Cochran said.

Often times deputies are called to help the same person over and over again. Their options are limited due to a lack of resources.

“And they’re going back and back and back and back and going again. There’s nowhere else to take them,” Bonner said. “We would love to see the population go down in the jail. I said in a Crime Commission report, about 25 percent of our detainees that come to jail are experiencing some type of mental health crisis.”

Many local activists have called on law enforcement to change the way they approach mental health. They claim too many people with persistent issues wind up in jail. It creates a criminal record and more problems down the road.

They’ve pushed for innovative programs like CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon. Instead of police, a medic and crisis worker respond to the non-violent crisis. Officials there report in 2019, officers were only called for backup 150 times out of 24,000 thousand calls. It saved taxpayers millions in ambulance trips and public safety costs.

Bonner said he’s been studying those programs as well as pressing the state to get more resources and trying to get more staff CIT training

Right now, we found out 29 out of 555 correctional officers, 272 out of 643 deputies and 8 out of 33 dispatchers are active CIT.