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Meridian Healthcare and GPD program helps mentally ill residents stay out of jail system

WCJB TV20 News by: Camille Syed

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) – Hundreds of residents battling mental illness or substance abuse have received treatment and advice from officers, instead of jail time, thanks to the Gainesville Police Department(GPD) and Meridian Healthcare co-respondents program.

Corporal Shelley Postle has been working with the team since it began in 2018 and received a certificate of appreciation from Meridian Healthcare.

She and other officers have undergone crisis intervention training and say this program gives people someone to confide in.

“We’re there for them, we’re there to listen, to give them compassion, to try to figure out exactly what it is their feeling,” Postle said. At that point and time that they’re talking to you, it really gives them a sense of validation.”

While Officers can enact the Baker Act, a law that allows law enforcement to commit a person to a mental health center.

So far the team has had 284 baker act diversions.

Jeremiah Alberico, vice president of Diversion and Recovery at Meridian said he appreciates Postle’s hard work.

“The skills and insight that Corporal Postle brings to the team as an experienced Crisis Intervention Team Officer, holding a masters in Forensic Psychology, has been instrumental and invaluable to Meridian, the Gainesville Police Department, and to our community,” Alberico said.

Alberico said jail time is not ideal for these residents.

“Incarcerating individuals is not the answer,” Alberico said. “So, diverting them from the criminal justice system is very beneficial to them as well as our community.”

To date, the GPD and Meridian co-responder program has kept 268 people suffering from mental illness out of the jail system. Albreico said this helps bridge a gap between residents and officers.

“I’ve heard personally from individuals that they were very impressed and amazed that they had law enforcement officers willing to sit down and take the time,” Alberico said. “Their perspective completely changed from law enforcement from that one interaction.”

Because of the program’s success, Meridian added a team with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office last year, and will now be adding three more corresponding teams with GPD in the next three months.

Postle said they try their best to follow up a week after every call.

“If we go out this week and we talk to somebody, next week we’re going to follow up with them to show that person that we care.”

If in a mental health crisis, they say to call 911 and ask for crisis intervention.

See the original April 13, 2021 story here:

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