BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) — Managing the mental health of suspects and police. That’s the goal of one Lowcountry police department as it puts an expert on the payroll.

The Bluffton Police Department (BPD) is the first to have a full-time Community Mental Health Advocate on staff.

Hannah Anderson said her grandfather was a corrections officer and the first time she started interning in jail, she felt a calling. A want to help.

“They need help the most more than anyone else,” Anderson said. “I just fell in love with helping people that no one else is helping or no one else wants to help. The forgotten people in our society.”

Originally from Nebraska, Anderson came with her husband, a Marine Drill Instructor at Parris Island, to the Lowcountry armed with a mental health degree and a desire to serve.

At the same time, after the George Floyd incident and protests, Bluffton Councilwoman Bridgette Frazier was working with Police and Town Council to get a full-time mental health advocate on staff at the Department.

“We cannot do the same thing and expect a different result,” Frazier explained her reasoning for the position. “We have to dig in and do something different.”

“Instead of just talking about the problems how do we come up with a solution that can be long-standing and impact the community,” Frazier continued.

Frazier’s hard work paid off, and Bluffton Police got the money they needed to hire Anderson.

Now on the job for about six months, Anderson works every day, taking phone calls from people in the community.

“The best way to build rapport is just to be reliable to answer the phone no matter what time it is,” explains Anderson. “Sometimes it is not even an emergency for them, they just need someone to talk to and be that listening ear for them.”

As well as communicating with local agencies and mental health partners and riding along with officers two days a week to get a sense of what they are feeling.

“The officers care but they don’t have time to care,” Anderson explained. “They have to get to the next call. They don’t have time to call families and friends and get information.”

The ride-along allows her to get hands-on with some of the people she talks to on the phone about their issues.

“A lot of people are untrustworthy of law enforcement and mental health professionals,” Anderson said. “So building that trust saying we aren’t trying to lock you up, we just want to help you is critical.”

Frazier says the services that Anderson and Bluffton Police provide are invaluable to the people in the community who need it most.

“You offer better resources to citizens who shouldn’t be afraid that their illness is criminalized but know they can get the help they need,” said Frazier.

“A lot of people have cried out for help. It’s only when those cries for help go unheard and unresolved that people lash out and it’s a way for someone to step in so they don’t feel isolated and they can transform themselves with that.”

“It’s us (the Town of Bluffton) recognizing that if you are in crisis we want to pair you up with someone who will not just give you immediate assistance but also stay with you long term to help you with follow-up to help you with resources like NAMI,” explains Frazier.

A way for Police to be both proactive and reactive according to Anderson.

Anderson will respond to calls as needed, a bulletproof vest on her chest, but armed only with her skills as a mental health professional and her knowledge of many of these people’s past issues, and how their family works with them every day.

Skills that can be even more valuable than a taser or a gun. Skills that can hopefully stop someone from injuring themselves or others, and stop law enforcement from having to make a difficult decision that could prove deadly.

Anderson will travel at the end of the year to be certified as a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) instructor.

CIT has reduced serious injuries and deaths during interactions between police and people with mental illness. Nationally it also has proven to reduce the time officers spend responding to a mental health call, and save Departments money with a community-based mental health treatment approach instead of incarceration.

Anderson will come back to train the rest of the Department in the procedures and the chief’s goal is to have everyone at BPD trained in CIT.