Mental Health Advocate Works to Bridge the Gap Between Bluffton Police and Citizens

BLUFFTON, SC (WSAV) — Suspect and Police Mental Health Management. That’s the purpose of a Lowcountry police station, because it puts an expert on the payroll.

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

Hannah Anderson said her grandfather was a prosecutor and the first time she started an internship in prison, she felt called to it. One want to help.

“They need help more than anyone else,” Anderson said. “I just fell in love with helping people that no one else helps or doesn’t want to help anyone else. The forgotten people in our society.”

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

At the same time, following the George Floyd incident and protests, Bluffton councilor Bridgette Frazier worked with police and the city council to get a full-time mental health attorney in the department.

“We can’t do the same thing and expect a different result,” Frazier explained her reasoning for the position. “We have to dig into our pockets and do something else.”

“Instead of just talking about the problems, how can we come up with a solution that can take a long time and have community implications,” Frazier continued.

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

Anderson has been on the job for about six months now, working every day to take calls from people in the community.

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

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

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

By riding along, she can get in touch with a number of people she talks to on the phone about their problems.

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

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

“You’re providing better resources to citizens who don’t have to worry about their disease being criminalized, but know they can get the help they need,” Frazier said.

“Many 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 intervene so they don’t feel isolated and they can transform themselves with it.

“It is we (the City of Bluffton) who recognize that if you are in a crisis, we want to match you with someone who will not only provide you with immediate assistance, but will stay with you long-term to help you follow through. -up to help you with resources like NAMI,” explains Frazier.

A way for the 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 problems, and how their families deal with them every day. works.

Skills that can be even more valuable than a taser or a pistol. Skills that can hopefully prevent someone from injuring themselves or others, and keep law enforcement from making a difficult decision that could prove fatal.

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

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

Anderson returns to train the rest of the department in procedures, and the chief’s goal is to get everyone at BPD trained in CIT.

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