JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ky. — When someone calls 911 in Jeffersontown, police, firefighters and EMS are dispatched to respond to the emergency call. Soon, there will also be social workers on the police department.

They won't be dispatched during the initial emergency call, though; they'll be following up with the people who had a mental health emergency, like a drug overdose or addiction problem.

What You Need To Know

  • Jeffersontown Police Department is adding social workers to its staff to help citizens experiencing mental health crises

  • The social workers won't respond with police, but will follow up with the 911 caller separately after the initial emergency

  • People who've been in mental health crises are weighing-in, with some skeptical that social workers won't respond alongside officers

Those who've suffered similar types of emergencies are weighing-in with their thoughts on the plan. While one houseless Louisvillian is supportive, calling it a good start, another person in long-term addiction recovery raised concern that police officers will still be the first on the scene to handle the mental health crisis.

Major Brittney Garrett is the officer who got the $249,000 grant for the program to bring two social workers to the department. She's hiring immediately, hoping to get the people who specialize in mental health on the team as soon as possible. Garrett said the need is obvious, as police are called to emergencies involving drug overdoses more and more.

"Our numbers for crisis intervention runs have been consistent over the last few years. Our overdose runs have doubled. Our runs involving addiction and the combination of mental illness and addiction or some other social service need, I mean they intersect with nearly every run we make," Garrett emphasized the desperate need for staff members who can act as counselors. 

The program will still put police on the scene first so the social workers follow-up with the citizens who were in mental health crises afterwards, to then connect them with help and services. That's what concerns the Louisville Recovery Community Connection's (LRCC) Jeremy Byard.

Byard, LRCC co-founder, is in long-term addiction recovery himself. He's successfully overcome his struggle that even meant incarceration for a time. He's been on the opposite end of police during a mental health emergency.

"We know that when police show up with their uniforms and their guns and sometimes that's intimidating. And it can oftentimes escalate a situation," Byard recounts. 

He imagines, in his "ideal" situation, social workers responding together with police or even in response to an emergency line separate from 911. 

"I've had encounters with the police that have escalated that probably didn't need to escalate, you know, not feeling heard or my side of the story being told," Byard said. 

That's what he's hoping for, as Louisville Metro crafts its own response program to get mental health professionals involved in certain emergency calls.

Meanwhile, LRCC frequent Chris Bright also has thoughts on the Jeffersontown plan. Bright is a houseless Louisvillian who said he's had no negative encounters with police, but has seen the tension between the community and officers firsthand. 

Bright assures, "people are on edge." So he feels the plan to use social workers is a good start. "You can't fight fire with fire."

"We could have cops, and we could have counselors," he said. "We could have these social workers. That's two dynamics. Just having one, one-size-fits-all never really works for real. So, why would it work on the bigger scale when it comes to life or death?"

His dream is for the initiative to bring more understanding to the police department.