CORAL SPRINGS, FL – During some weeks, hardly a day goes by when Coral Springs police don’t respond to a person going through a mental health crisis that poses a danger to him or her or someone else.
In the first week of July, records show, city police responded to eight cases through the state Baker Act statue – a voluntary or involuntary process of placing people with mental illnesses for up to 72 hours in a mental health treatment facility.
The week before that, police went on six Baker Act calls.
So far this year, police have responded to more than 330 Baker Act cases in Coral Springs – in communities across the city including lower-income neighborhoods and wealthier subdivisions, records show.
And in 2019, they went on 640 calls in all.
Baker Act cases have remained mostly consisted through the coronavirus emergency.
It’s not known what, if any, impact the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy had on the number of Baker Act cases in Coral Springs back then or continues to have today as residents still struggle with the aftermath of the shootings.
But what is clear is that Coral Springs police, like other law enforcement departments, have in recent years stepped up training on the Baker Act and how to deal with other mental health-related cases.
According to Coral Springs Deputy Police Chief Brad McKeone, mental health training is required for all officers, through a program called CIT (Crisis Intervention Team).
“The training is taught by mental health professionals in how to deal with those who suffer from mental illness. The program is a week-long course in which the officers receive a certification,” he explained.
In addition, McKeone said, officers get training within the agency either yearly or quarterly. Officers are trained by more experienced, field training officers on how to handle Baker Act calls more effectively.
The Baker Act is named for Maxine Baker, who served in Florida's House of Representatives from 1963 to 1972. The law specifies three criteria:
• There is reason to believe the person is mentally ill.
• Because of the mental illness, the person has refused a voluntary examination or is unable to determine whether such an examination is needed.
• Without treatment, the person is likely to suffer from neglect or to harm himself or herself or someone else in the future.
Initiating the Baker Act process can be done by judges, doctors or mental health professionals, or, of course, law enforcement officers.
McKeone said officers get involved when a call for help comes in from the public or when an officer sees a person in apparent need of mental health services.
“Once an officer arrives they would need to evaluate that person, and speak with all parties involved with the call. They would then need to make a determination based on the facts presented to them whether or not the person in question was a danger to themselves or others if left untreated,” he said.
It’s up to officers to determine if the person meets the criteria for a Baker Act, he said.
He said a typical call usually involves family members contacting the police department to report that their loved one (sibling or child) is threatening to kill themselves (either with a weapon or overdose of medications).
Even when families initiate the request for help, these calls can be challenging for police and everyone involved.
“There is an inherent risk with every Baker Act just like any arrest,” McKeone said.
If you need police assistance in helping a person suffering a mental health issue, call the Coral Springs Police Department at 954-344-1800.
Know a story we should share with our readers? Email editor Leon Fooksman (email@example.com) and tell him about it.