Huntsville will get new crisis diversion center, further crisis training for law enforcement

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 6:57 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Mental health issues are taking center stage in the Tennessee Valley.

Thursday night, Huntsville City Council approved a resolution to build a new crisis diversion center to help people who are often ignored and don’t know where to go.

Police Chief Mark McMurray said the new center is a partnership with Wellstone Mental Health Services which will help them respond during emergencies.

They plan to build the facility on South Memorial Parkway.

Huntsville police respond right now to over 1,000 suicide calls a year,” said Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray.

McMurray said a majority of the calls they respond to are a variety of mental health crisis situations.

To help deescalate scenes, Wellstone Mental Health Services is providing law enforcement with Crisis Intervention Training to respond to calls.

In addition, a new 25,000 sq. feet diversion crisis center will be built to place trained mental health professionals with officers.

“Not everybody wants to go the hospital for whatever reason and jail is not appropriate. So now that we’re able to provide that third option we have a true front door approach, and we can divert people away from those other options,” said Wellstone CEO Jeremy Blair.

Resident Ava Melendez said while she believes the CIT training is a step in the right direction, she would like to see more police reform as it relates to mental health.

“Because just this last week our city’s leadership publicly condoned the murder of a suicidal man, Jeffrey parker. How can you ask us to entrust you with our safety when an officer can walk into already tense situation and shoot an innocent man and you all use our tax dollars to fund his defense while our mayor and chief pat him on the back!?,” said Melendez.

Other residents like Russell Stranners feel additional resources are needed to help people in need.

“Do the buses go there? Do we have that access? Do we have more facilities than just that place on the parkway? Then we will have not to have officers make these interventions and quite frankly any officer who goes in there with mere hours of training once they recognize it’s a bad situation should step back until a true professional arrives on the scene,” said Stranners.

The crisis center is expected to be built by July of next year.

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