UAMS, LRPD Receive $500,000 Grant to Create Police, Social Worker Response Teams

By Tim Taylor

The three-year grant, submitted by the Little Rock Police Department in collaboration with the UAMS Department of Psychiatry, will be used to hire four social workers to work with the police in situations involving individuals having a mental health crisis. The funding will also be used to train first responders on how to recognize a crisis situation and how to properly respond to it.

Lisa Evans, Ph.D., director of the Pulaski County Regional Crisis Stabilization Unit and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, assisted with the grant application and will help train participants in the program, the first of its kind in Little Rock.

Approximately half the people in U.S. jails and over one third of the population of U.S. prisons have been diagnosed with a mental illness, according to Evans.

“We have continued to incarcerate the problem of mental illness, but there are several ways to solve it,” she said. “One way is for these people to go into treatment instead of jail, keep them out of the justice system where they are subject to discrimination and marginalization.”

“Mental health is an issue that continues to plague the communities in which we police. As the incidents in the communities evolve, so must our efforts to serve and protect,” said Little Rock Chief of Police Heath Helton. “This is the first of its kind in Little Rock, and we are thankful to do our part to address this national issue.”

Evans said this program will not only be a source of pride for the city but also will allow the police to concentrate their efforts on crimes of a serious nature.

“Officers want to be able to focus on fighting crime. This program will allow specially trained officers and a social work team to respond to mental health issues while the rest of the team keeps fighting crime. We’re hoping that this program will evolve into a national model and help the city to utilize the resources of the police more effectively,” she said.