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City of Winston-Salem develops unique mental health response team

The City of Winston-Salem will soon send mental health counselors to some non-violent 911 calls.

Unique is the word that team director Kristin Ryan uses when describing the Behavioral Evaluation and Response Team, or BEAR Team.

“Response teams, mobile crisis teams do exist," said Ryan. Co-response teams exist. The BEAR Team is unique in the way that we have the support to respond independently and receive backup if needed.”

That means the BEAR Team can respond to mental health calls without other first responders, freeing up officers to go to other calls.

“Everybody responds differently, so for some individuals, maybe because of past history, even though we train law enforcement and other first responders, some people if they see an individual in a uniform and badge it may actually heighten their fear," said Andy Hagler, Executive Director of The Mental Health Association in Forsyth County.

The BEAR Team will consist of seven people including team director Ryan and will launch in April once the available six occupancies have been filled.

“They’re going to be called crisis counselors," said Ryan. "They’ll have the background of both social work, mental health, it will be a variance of backgrounds.”

“They’re going to take some things a step further that’s really been lacking here in the city,” said Hagler.

Hagler has worked in Forsyth County for 25 years and says about 20% of the population deals with mental health crises.

“They’re not criminals," said Hagler. "They’re just sick and they need help. Part of this with the BEAR Team and their response system is that it will decriminalize mental illness.”

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