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Lauderdale County revamps Community Mental Health Officer program; names new coordinator

FLORENCE, Ala. – State budget cuts in the treatment of mental health has placed a crisis in the laps of law enforcement. To meet the challenge, there’s a Community Mental Health Officer program in northwest Alabama which has the eyes of law enforcement agencies from across the state.

Sgt. Shane Blalock is sworn in by Lauderdale County Probate Judge Will Motlow

On Monday, Sergeant Shane Blalock with the Florence Police Department was sworn-in as the new Coordinator for Community Mental Health Officers in Lauderdale County.

Blalock will oversee a team of mental health officers, helping residents with specialized needs.

Sgt. Shane Blalock, Florence Police Department

“Every time we interact with somebody they are in a state of crisis, and our job is to deescalate and get them the treatment and help where they don’t get back to that place again,” said Blalock.

With two Lauderdale County deputies in training, it’s the first dual agency team of it’s kind.

Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler has watched as more and more officers are having to deal with mental health issues.

Chief Ron Tyler, Florence Police Department

“Eight times a week we are responding to calls where people are a danger to themselves or they are a danger to others,” Tyler explained. “Its at epidemic levels and we are having law enforcement respond.”

According to Chief Tyler, state cutbacks for mental health has placed a burden on law enforcement. Most patrol officers are not equipped to deal with the issue, and Tyler said jails are not the place for them.

“That cycle is not going to be broken until the state of Alabama recognizes that this is a medical condition and they begin to fund it so people can get medical care for the condition,” stated Tyler.

So Blalock will have the authority through the probate judge to involuntarily commit those with illness, until a hearing can be scheduled.

The Huntsville Police Department is currently working with the Lauderdale County program to establish their own Community Mental Health Officer team.