SPD announces new Behavioral Health Unit to assist in police response

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Savannah Police Department announced Monday the addition of a new Behavioral Health Unit.

Officials say the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) will help respond to police calls involving individuals in crisis or with substance abuse. In 2019, the department responded to more than 3,700 calls for mental health. In the last three months, officers received more than 560 calls.

“Officers at the BHU go to that scene assisting that person with whatever that crisis is or whatever their need is and then put them in connection with services that are available,” Major Robert Gavin with the Savannah Police Dept. said.

The unit consists of two non-uniformed SPD officers and a licensed clinician.

The unit will be in a patrol car two days a week. The clinician will also be available by phone or tele-medicine if she is not physically present. 

SPD officials say the unit will respond to calls involving opioid or substance abuse, suicide and mental health disorders, and will assist with calls for homelessness and disorderly conduct. 

“So really being able to talk to a person and gather that information. Try to figure out what happened that brought them to that point and then pinpointing what’s exactly going to be that best resource connection,” Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Rebecca Galbreath said.

The department says the goal is to decriminalize substance abuse and mental health and reduce the amount of those individuals entering the criminal justice system.

“The unit will continue to connect with the subjects to make sure they show up for appointments and help them get assistance with anything that may stand in their way – things like issues with transportation, childcare or their job,” says SPD Chief Roy Minter says, “We realize that issues like substance abuse or mental illness also affect the family so the unit will also keep the family’s wellbeing in mind, connecting the family with resources, such as the Front Porch, to get the whole family help to rebuild.”

“What we’re trying to do is increase their chances of success and the more that we’re keeping them on that track and working with them to get better is the less they’re involved in situations where 911 is going to be called or where they’re ending up in jail,” Gavin said.

According to the Savannah Police Department, the department received a federal opioid grant in June 2019 and began researching similar, successful units. 

Officials say the SPD unit is modeled after the BHU at Portland, Oregon’s police department, which has been in operation since 2013.

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