New Lake Mary police unit replaces successful mental health partnership

Behavioral Services Unit refers people in crisis to resources

LAKE MARY, Fla. – The long-awaited replacement for the Lake Mary Police Department’s prior ground-breaking solution for those in mental health crisis: The Behavioral Services Unit.

News 6 reported extensively on Lake Mary Police Department’s Mental Health Intervention Group over the past several years.

The partnership with the community was helping those in crisis get better, which meant fewer hospital visits and run-ins with police.

The Mental Health Intervention Group pulled together hospitals, counselors, pharmacists, and food pantries to address the underlying issues of those struggling with their mental health. But it ended suddenly last year over lack of funding. All partners had been volunteering their services and resources.

Now, Lake Mary police have modeled their new version of the Mental Health Intervention Group — the Behavioral Services Unit — after a similar program at the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Community Relations Officer Claudia Umana, also a crisis negotiator, is one of three in the unit.

“What we did, we took all the cases the day that M.H.I.G. ended and we followed up on those cases until the Behavioral Services Unit was established,” Umana said. “After we listen to them, get to know their story, we see where they are in life, and what we can assist them with. Whether it’s getting them medication, referrals for mental illness, substance abuse. It just depends what they’re in need of.”

The Lake Mary Police Department is “reimagining” how law enforcement officers help people suffering from mental illness in a “one-of-a-kind” public-private partnership, according to Lake Mary Police Officer Zach Hudson.

The BSU now follows up on anyone who comes in contact with police in crisis. Umana and two other BSU officers follow up either in person, over the phone, or visit them at their home or last point of contact, even in Spanish.

“Every morning [Officer] Michelle and I come in and we have an email from the Secretary of the Criminal Investigations Division,” Umana said. “She sends us the current Baker Act and Marchman Act patient cases. So her and I start looking into those cases, we see if this is a known person. Now if it’s a new person, we’ll just call and introduce ourselves and say we’re here to help, how can we assist you and what can we assist you with. It may be someone with mental illness, substance abuse, so depending on what the person’s need is that’s what we know what resources to provide them. Usually they make contact with patrol, they’re in immediate need of assistance at that point. They’re either medically or substance-abuse dependent at that time. So our officers speak with them and determine if they’re a case for Baker Act or Marchman Act.”

Lt. Matthew Schaefer oversees the BSU.

“Our goal is to provide people in crisis with services that they can go and get help,” Schaefer said. “So what we try and do is isolate what the need is early on. So if a senior is in need of services or something along those lines, we partner with the Senior Intervention Group.”

The BSU now turn to its partners, just like M.H.I.G. did, referring people in crisis to counselors and churches, shelters, senior centers, and in the case of children, to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Intervention Services.

“The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, they have Youth Interventions Services that is particularly designed to provide services to children, they’re the one who will take a look and provide the services,” Schaefer said.

Community partner Aspire Behavioral Health will provide free medication under certain circumstances.

Is the BSU seeing results?

“Yes, we have less repeat people in our system,” Umana said. “They’re calling less or their family members are calling less because they’re always in contact with someone.”

Typically, the BSU comes in contact with someone in crisis when they’ve called for service but you can reach out to them directly if you are in crisis or just need referrals.

Email or call 407-585-1330 and ask for the BSU.

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.