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Proposed bill would offer assistance for Georgia law enforcement in mental health emergencies

The legislation would provide officers the opportunity to either work with a virtual or in-person behavioral health specialist during a mental health crisis.

ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate advanced a proposed bill Thursday that would provide local law enforcement agencies with the opportunity to partner with behavioral health specialists to assist officers when responding to an emergency mental health crisis.

According to a release from Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan's Office, SB 403, known as the "Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act," would provide a statewide framework for more co-responder teams.

"In my home county of Forsyth, I have seen firsthand the impact that behavioral health professionals can have on law enforcement response efforts," Lt. Governor Duncan said. "Pairing law enforcement officers with professionals with specialized training to de-escalate a mental health-related emergency can yield long-term results that increase public safety and provide immediate access to mental health care for those in crises. I applaud my colleagues for prioritizing public safety with innovative and focused strategies."

Sen. Ben Watson (R–Savannah) serves as Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. He also sponsors SB 403 that would direct Georgia’s Community Service Boards (CSBs) to provide a behavioral health specialist to assist law enforcement agencies who choose to participate in the program. In Georgia, there are currently 23 operating CSBs. 

“As a physician with over three decades of experience, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to ensure individuals in a behavioral health crisis receive an appropriate response, appropriate care and consistent follow-up,” Sen. Watson said. “This legislation is a significant step toward securing mental health services in Georgia communities by providing crisis intervention to those who have the most urgent need.”

Under the program, CSBs would provide either a virtual or in-person behavioral health specialty to help officers. With the assistance of a licensed counselor, officers would have the authority to refer someone to a treatment facility rather than make an arrest. 

SB 403 now heads to the House for consideration. For more information about the legislation, click here.

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