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Dunwoody Police bringing on mental health expert for 911 calls

Published: Jun. 3, 2022 at 5:15 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2022 at 5:47 PM EDT
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DUNWOODY, Ga. (CBS46) - Dunwoody Police Department is the latest law enforcement agency to bring on mental health experts to respond to 911 calls with their officers. They are hoping they can better serve those facing mental health issues in the community through this addition.

“We are starting to respond to significantly more mental health calls, sometimes on a daily basis,” said Dunwoody Police Sgt. Michael Cheek.

Just last month – Atlanta police responded to an unruly patron armed with a handgun at a restaurant in Buckhead, and the situation escalated. Nygil Cullins, 22, allegedly shot a security guard and was later shot and killed by police.

Cullin’s family says he was having a mental crisis – even calling police earlier in the night requesting help for their son. They want to know why no mental health professionals were at the scene.

“We are going to fight so other mothers, other sisters and uncles and cousins, their loved ones will be able to get help,” said his aunt.

Atlanta police tell CBS46 they do not have mental health professionals assigned to respond to 911 calls. But they do offer a 3-1-1 non-emergency option Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Mental health experts say it’s better to have a trained health professional on the scene than an officer in uniform who could make the person in crisis more anxious.

“A good bulk of these calls that come in - they have nothing to do with police matters. Folks are in a crisis and they don’t know who else to call and we’re all trained to call 911,” said Pej Mahdavi, clinical social worker, View Point Health. “Officers, as great as they are, are trained to enforce the law. It’s not to be counselors, therapists.”

Officers say this program could make a drastic difference in the future.

“Resource to help them stay out of the criminal justice system,” said Cheek.

Dunwoody police say they are still working on the program to iron out the details. They do say if there is success and a higher demand they might be able to bring more clinicians on board.