Jacob Baird, Community Engagement Officer with the Lawrenceville Police Department gave a Project F.I.R.S.T. Annual Update to the City Council.  Last year, the City of Lawrenceville and View Point Health entered into an agreement creating a Police-Mental Health Collaboration (PMHC) to provide a co-responder program which began July 1, 2021. 

Through this agreement, the Lawrenceville Police Department embedded two behavioral health clinicians into field operations to dispatch with officers on crisis-related calls and to assist individuals in obtaining the necessary services after the crisis conclusion.  Together they function as the Community Response Team (CRT), the program is called Project F.I.R.S.T in reference to “For Intensive Response & Supportive Transitions,” and View Point Health Staff are referred to as FIRST Clinicians.

“Our research and national statistics overwhelmingly support what we have found to be true in Lawrenceville,” said Mayor David Still.  “When co-responder programs are implemented effectively, both incarcerations and recidivism are greatly reduced.  These reductions free up budget dollars for key personnel, infrastructure improvements, and programs. It’s a win-win.”

In Lawrenceville, the CRT defines crises broadly and includes issues such as homelessness, emergency transportation, and substance abuse, among others.  In one year, the CRT responded to 879 crisis calls and only 8 ended in an arrest resulting in a 0.9% arrest rate.  Comparatively, patrol had 5,809 crisis calls and 504 arrests resulting in an 8.6% arrest rate.  The implementation of the Project F.I.R.S.T. Co-Responder Program directed 76 individuals from incarceration. Based on reported first-year statistics, a full expansion of the Project F.I.R.S.T. program could have averted an additional 452 individuals from jail.  

“Once mental health professionals from Project F.I.R.S.T. were able to assess and direct individuals toward the services needed, crisis-related calls reduced, and in many cases, they stopped completely,” said Officer Jacob Baird, Community Engagement Officer.

Officer Baird also reported findings of a social determinant within the Co-Responder program.  Project F.I.R.S.T. staff has established relationships with local non-profits to assist individuals with emergency housing, food, and emergency transportation needs.  From July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022, Project F.I.R.S.T. provided/arranged the following social services for individuals after a crisis-related call:

  • Emergency Housing – 39
  • Emergency Transportation – 40
  • Emergency Food – 4
  • Drug Rehabilitation – 3
  • Crisis Stabilization – 169

To further increase the success of the program, Project F.I.R.S.T. has established multiple community partners, including View Point Health, Magnuson, Northside Hospital Gwinnett, Recovery Foundations, Across the Bridge, Uber, Greyhound, Lawrenceville Co-op, Impact46, Lawrenceville Senior Center, Gwinnett Health and Human Services, and Veteran’s Administration.

The next steps for Project F.I.R.S.T. are to add additional Community Engagement Officers and Mental Health Professionals, add case management services and ancillary services, increase hours to provide 24-hour service, and secure space to create a F.I.R.S.T. Center.

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