Program to help mentally ill

DALLAS — The Dallas Police Department and Polk County Behavioral Health are working together to help people suffering from mental illness who commit minor crimes avoid jail or court.

A six-month pilot of a diversion program will begin this month and will allow officers to refer people to treatment rather than arrest them or issue a criminal citation.

To be eligible, the crimes must be misdemeanor level and not violent. Suspects must be adults who consent to participation and not be on parole or probation. Also, victims must agree to the diversion.

If the suspect cooperates with treatment for 60 days, the charges will be dropped. If not, they will be prosecuted. Officers may also refer people who have not committed a crime, but they believe need intervention. Called a “social referral” that process is meant to help establish contact with a mental health professional.

“This program is fairly unique because it will keep some low-level offenders who need mental health treatment from even entering the formal criminal justice system,” said Dallas Lt. Jerry Mott. “The formal criminal justice system is a good one, but is not necessarily geared toward taking care of people who would not do minor criminal acts but for their illness.”

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