The Palm Beach County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) is using Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) grant funding to deploy trained officers and clinicians in a co-responder model to address targeted violence and terrorism (TVT) threats.
PBSO has experience identifying and responding to TVT threats and coordinating with federal and local law enforcement (LE) agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, because its jurisdiction includes a significant portion of the state’s critical infrastructure and a residence of a former U.S. president. Although PBSO officers have performed numerous TVT assessments, they have received minimal training on responding to mental health calls-for-service. Understanding that some calls-for-service begin as mental health concerns and evolve to TVT threats and looking to increase the agency’s ability to train officers and deploy co-responder teams of officers and clinicians, PBSO received a CP3 TVTP grant in fiscal year 2021.
PBSO was familiar with the obstacles other LE agencies across the country faced in establishing and deploying co-responder teams, including distrust and methodological differences between clinicians and LE officers. As one step to move through the divide, PBSO teamed clinical staff with plainclothes detectives, instead of uniformed officers. PBSO also accounted for differences of opinion and perspectives between officers and clinical staff by selecting officer and clinician candidates drawn from specific employee networks and by looking for an aligned mindset during hiring. The agency recognized that they could provide training to people with an aligned mindset rather than changing the mindset of others. Finally, PBSO increased their recruitment pool of mental health providers by performing market research and adjusting pay and benefits to compensate selected clinicians for returning to a fully in-person role.
PBSO built and operates co-responder teams of law enforcement and clinicians to address targeted violence threats, at the same time restructuring internal supervision to effectively accommodate their differences.
PBSO had LE staff supervising both detectives and clinicians, which was challenging for some clinicians who held negative perceptions about LE, and for officers who had reservations about clinicians. PBSO adjusted by keeping the LE staff to supervise officers and added a clinical supervisor to oversee the clinical staff. The supervisors collaborate and ultimately report to the TVT program staff. So far, 233 individuals have undergone a field assessment or screening by a specially trained officer or mental health professional, and 17 of those individuals were successfully provided mental health services.
PBSO has experienced several recent successes in which the co-responder teams played a pivotal role. The absence of violent events has been linked to the capabilities of threat assessment tools and teams. PBSO believes the teams are more effective because they involve multiple disciplines coordinating effectively. For example, thanks to strong partnerships, PBSO was able to detain an individual at the Palm Beach State college campus who threatened mass violence. The co-responder model has also greatly increased PBSO’s ability to triage, differentiate, and effectively respond to both mental health and TVT calls-for-service.