Doraville, Dunwoody partner to expedite emergency mental health response

Law enforcement in both cities say they've seen a large increase in mental health emergency calls.
Published: May. 28, 2023 at 12:18 AM EDT
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DORAVILLE, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Policing is not the same as it was even a decade ago.

“It has changed tremendously,” said Doraville Police Chief Chuck Atkinson

At the forefront of that change are how police respond to mental health calls. Dunwoody police Sergeant Michael Cheek has seen mental health calls balloon in his two decades in law enforcement.

“We used to go to one of those per week back when I first started,” Cheek said. “Now, it’s almost daily.”

Dunwoody took action last year, partnering with View Point Health to provide an on-call mental health clinician who could respond with officers and help expedite mental health care for people in crisis.

But the program struggled, so the Dunwoody Police Department has teamed up with the Doraville Police Department for the same program through the DeKalb Community Service (DSC) board.

“We can arrest people, but arresting people doesn’t fix the problem,” Atkinson said.

The behavioral clinician for the program is Gregory Lazzara, a licensed professional with a mental health reach that police – even with training – do not have.

“Our hands are kind of tied sometimes when we get a call on someone with a mental health issue, but a clinician has much wider latitude,” Atkinson explained.

This means that rather than sitting in jail, someone in crisis can go straight to a medical facility for help.

“It’s a priority because we see the problem getting worse, and we’re trying to get ahead of it and be proactive to find a way to properly assist these people,” Cheek said.

Continuing an ongoing process of evolving with times.

“This is the way that policing is going,” Atkinson said.