The Atlanta nurse and the cop knocked on a door of an extended stay motel. The door inched open, and out stepped a gaunt, unshaven man wearing boxer shorts and a grin that revealed several missing teeth, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The man said he was sleeping in three-hour shifts and surviving on French fries and Ovaltine. Nurse Vicki Jacobs knows him as a gifted mathematician and writer whose career was derailed by schizophrenia; she gently suggested he take his medicine.
Each weekday, from about 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., a police officer and a nurse patrol DeKalb County, Ga., in a squad car marked “Crisis Intervention.” The unit is jointly run by the DeKalb County Police Department and the DeKalb Community Service Board, a mental health agency. It’s one of only a few such collaborations in the Southeast. A dozen officers take turns riding for a week with one of a handful of nurses trained in psychiatric care. They may be summoned to a suicide or standoff or to crime scenes involving the mentally ill. When they’re not racing to an emergency, they make house calls to monitor whether people take their medicine, and refer grieving parents or drug addicts to support groups and treatment centers.
“We can have 10 hours of sheer boredom and 10 seconds of sheer terror,” said Officer Cindy Fausel. One goal is to steer the mentally ill toward medical care as opposed to taking them to jail, as officers sometimes do for lack of a better option.