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Largo police have had success using TRACE to reduce the number of Baker Act incidents. Credit: Summer Gray/Directions for Living

Two local police agencies have started using a simple tool to connect citizens in mental distress with professional mental-health services in order to avoid using the Baker Act to confine the person involuntarily in a psychiatric hospital.

  • And it seems to be working.

Background: When police officers respond to help a person in mental distress, they often have three choices:

  • Leave and do nothing, arrest the person and take them to jail, or initiate the Baker Act, which means holding citizens involuntarily for 72 hours in a treatment facility if they meet certain criteria.

What's new: A new program equips officers with tablets they use to call a professional counselor who can talk virtually with the distressed person about getting the help they need.

What they're saying: "A Baker Act is not treatment. It is a period of crisis stabilization," says April Lott, president and CEO of the Clearwater non-profit Directions for Living, whose counselors are working with police through the program.

  • "This period is fleeting, and if we can stabilize you that will pass and we can get you connected to treatment."

Details: Largo police officers were given tablets and trained on TRACE — or Telehealth Remote Access to Crisis Evaluation — in November, and they have reduced by half the number of Baker Acts the department initiates.

  • The Belleair Police Department began using TRACE this month.
  • Six other local agencies have inquired about it since a television news report ran, and USF got a grant to study effectiveness of the program, per Lott.

The big picture: The pandemic has forced law enforcement across the country to try to find innovative solutions to the huge increase in the number of people who call the police due to emotional distress and mental health crises.

Plus: The past year has made people more comfortable with virtual communication.

  • "People didn’t believe in the benefits of tele-health before the pandemic," Lott told Axios. "I thought, let’s take advantage of this moment, with people’s comfort level changing with technology."
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Go deeper

Apr 14, 2021 - Axios Denver

Mental health poised to be Colorado's next pandemic priority

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic left no life unscathed, and the universal experience of enduring a tumultuous year has made health and wellness a pressing priority for people from all walks of life.

  • "There’s a new dynamic. … It’s almost like it’s OK to get help," Dr. Carl Clark, president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, tells Axios.

Over half of police-involved killings in 2020 began after non-violent incidents

Data: Mapping Police Violence; Icons: WeePeople by ProPublica; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

58% of police-involved killings in the U.S. last year began when officers responded to non-violent incidents, per the Mapping Police Violence database.

Why it matters: This week's lethal shooting of Daunte Wright near Minneapolis sparked new protests and comes in the wake of nationwide demonstrations against police violence.

Updated 5 mins ago - World

Putin calls Biden summit "constructive," says ambassadors will return to posts

Putin at the summit with Biden. Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his summit with President Biden was "constructive," and that the countries had agreed their ambassadors would imminently return to their posts in Moscow and Washington.

What he's saying: "Many of our joint positions are divergent but nevertheless I think both sides manifested a determination to try and understand each other and try and converge our positions," Putin told reporters at a press conference immediately following the meetings, according to a translator.