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Tampa City Council makes progress in building mental health response program

Councilman John Dingfelder's initial motion for the city requested up to $1 million to invest in a new mental health response program.

TAMPA, Fla. — After months of protests against police brutality across the nation and here in Tampa Bay, Tampa's City Council is taking action. On Thursday, they discussed steps in creating Tampa's own mental health response program for managing crisis calls.

"I believe that people going through crisis may not react better by seeing someone with a badge and gun," one person said during public comment in Tampa's City Council meeting Thursday afternoon. 

Overall, the idea of more mental health experts and less violence is what all members of the public asked for from the council. They also brought up the successful program that is in Eugene, Oregon called "Cahoots" and say Tampa should model its program after it.

"It'll alleviate some responsibility from police, save the city money and most importantly save lives," another person said.

The Cahoots program involves many changes but one important one being nonviolent calls would be diverted to mental health experts. Those experts would then respond independent of the police department. 

Teams usually work in pairs of two and include one EMT and one social worker that can help walk these people through their crisis and connect them with programs in the community that can help them moving forward.

Tampa's City Council board members agree with modeling their program after that and voted to give the Tampa Police Department 30 days to come back with proposals from different mental health companies sharing how much working with them will cost and their timelines.

"We have to make sure everybody has support because without it challenges become unchecked mental health crisis over time," Councilman Luis Viera said.

The council made it clear they will work with multiple groups to help build their program to help its success. "Everyone will be at the table, we have to work together for it to succeed and not just you win but be a win for everybody," Councilman Orlando Gudes said.

While cost of the future program is still getting worked out, Councilman John Dingfelder's initial motion for the city requested up to $1 million to invest in the new mental health response program. The goal is to have the program up and running by early next year.

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