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Huntsville City Council supports construction of new crisis diversion center with unanimous vote

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 5:25 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The first Huntsville City Council meeting following the murder conviction of Huntsville Police Officer William Darby sparked difficult conversations. Darby was convicted last week of killing suicidal man Jeffrey Parker. This was the driving force behind a unanimous vote to support the construction of a new crisis diversion center to help those in this community.

“This is not a police problem. This is a societal problem,” says Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray.

McMurray says the best solution for the mental health crisis is a collaborative effort. The biggest partner in this collaboration with HPD is Wellstone Mental Health Services Inc. This is a continuation of the collaboration between HPD and Wellstone called the HPD-Wellstone Co-Response Program.

HPD responds to over 1,000 suicidal calls a year. The department is often the first to arrive at the scene for a mental health call and Wellstone is helping train HPD how to better respond to those calls through Crisis Intervention Training.

“It places trained mental health professionals, masters level individuals, with HPD officers for response to altered mental state calls,” says Program Director of Wellstone Jeremy Blair.

“This team will utilize the combined expertise of the officer and the mental health professional to de-escalate situations and help link individuals with behavioral health issues to appropriate services.”

This partnership includes a 25,000 sq. ft. crisis diversion center hoping to be built by July of 2022. It would cost 10 million dollars to build, and 6 million has already been raised. They are currently in phase one of the diversion center.

“In 2021, actually last week, Wellstone Emergency Services opened what we are calling phase one because it is in a temporary location.”

This temporary location has a 10-bed inpatient unit and a 10-bed temporary operation unit. HPD responded to their first CIT call and says it was a success.

“When our CIT officers talked to him about the crisis diversion center he said, ‘yes I would like to do that.’ Our officers took him to the center. People took him in and started talking to him, and from the moment he got there all he could do was say thank you,” says Lt. Jon Ware with Huntsville Police Department.

Public comment was allowed at the end of the discussion. Community members were not satisfied with the response to the Darby trial or the mental health efforts. They are calling for change and accountability.

“I am relieved that the police were never involved in my situation. After seeing your reactions and reading your statements regarding the murder conviction of Darby, I now know you do not care about my life for others who struggle with mental health,” says one person.

“Just this last week our cities leadership publicly condoned the murder of a suicidal man, Jeffrey Parker. How can you ask us to trust you with our safety when an officer can walk into an already tense situation with no prior knowledge of what has been used to de-escalate, shooting an innocent man on video, and in front of witnesses. And, you want to use our tax dollars to fund his defense, and the chief and the mayor pat him on the back,” added another community member.

Lt. Ware says this is not the end, but just one step in the journey to finding a solution to the mental health crisis.

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