1. News

Pasco County Sheriff's Office to introduce new team focused on mental health

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said Monday he is creating a mental health unit in his office, consisting of a lieutenant, a sergeant, a social worker, two case managers and six deputies. [SARAH VERSCHOOR | Times]
Published Jun. 17

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Pasco County Sheriff's Office announced Monday it will create a new unit of deputies and case workers dedicated to the mental health needs of the county.

"This is definitely the wave of the future," Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a news conference.

The Mental Health and Threat Assessment Team plans to interact directly with people who are experiencing mental health crises with emphasis on those who have been repeatedly detained under the Baker Act. Lt. Toni Roach, who will lead the new unit, has traveled to Houston, Salt Lake City and Arlington, Va., to see how law enforcement agencies are managing the intersection of mental health and policing across the country.

Deputies in Pasco County responded last year to nearly 20,000 calls related to mental health issues. The Sheriff's Office estimates that in 2018 about 503 people have been detained under the Baker Act more than once.

Nocco said he hopes members of the unit will form relationships with people experiencing mental illness so they can anticipate their needs rather than just respond when they are in distress. The team will also connect them with local partners who provide care, like BayCare Behavioral Health and Novus Detox.

The unit will cost $1.45 million per year and is set to start in October. It will consist of a lieutenant, a sergeant, a social worker, two case managers and six deputies.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has a similar unit, started in 2016. A team of social workers and deputies responds to calls of people in emotional distress, said Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Spencer Gross. The unit also checks back in with people it interacts with often to connect them with behavioral health services.

Its goal is to reduce the number of people deputies detain under the Baker Act, Gross said.

In Hillsborough County, the Sheriff's Office has no mental health unit but last week announced a new policy requiring all its deputies to undergo 40 hours of training through the office's Crisis Intervention Training program.

The program is designed to inform officers how to calm someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis, sheriff's office spokeswoman Amanda Granit said.

Nocco said he hopes Pasco County can some day create a mental health emergency room through proceeds from a nationwide lawsuit against opioid distributors and manufacturers. Pasco joined the suit last year.

People know where to go when they break their arm, Nocco said, but those facing emotional distress only know to call 911.

"We need places where people understand, 'This is where I go if I have a mental health crisis.'"

Contact Sarah Verschoor at Follow @SarahVerschoor


  1. St. Petersburg's single-use plastic straw ban kicks in starting Jan. 1, 2020. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    The City Council on Thursday is set to adopt some tweaks to the ordinance, including making all straws by-request-only.
  2. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was being driven through North Tampa when she spotted suspicious activity. She called it in, leading to an arrest. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Tampa’s mayor was being driven through North Tampa when she stepped back briefly into police work.
  3. 1 hour ago• Hillsborough
    Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The 47-year-old man was fatally injured after walking into the SUV’s path on E Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
  4. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
  5. Joseph Erickson, 53, looks out the window at the gulf-[front condo he thought he won at a foreclosure auction last year.t JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    "There have been serious allegations,'' Judge Keith Meyer said.
  6. Steven Duane Baker, 61, was arrested on a charge of leaving the scene of a fatal crash and destroying evidence in a crash that left a 28-year-old bicyclist dead on U.S. 301, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Florida Highway Patrol
    Steven D. Baker, 61, told investigators he hit something but didn’t know it was a bicyclist, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Troopers say he should have stopped.
  7. The Teal Plank Workshop in Brooksville is gaining popularity as a place to host a party with friends and make something for your home — all at the same time. CAITLYN BRAY  |  Special to the Times
  8. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Shoppers in Tampa Bay can now skip the line and cash out alcohol on their own phones.
  9. Which cars hold their value best in Tampa Bay? Pictured is traffic in Tampa Bay in 2017. [Times file photo] ELLIOTT, LOREN  |  Elliott, Loren
    For the top spots, think big and rugged.
  10. Pharmacist Wendy Sullivan gives a flu shot to Luz Acevedo at the Town 'N Country Senior Center in 2012. The 2019-20 flu season is expected to be a hard one, with Hillsborough County already leading the state in outbreaks. Associated Press
    The county leads the state in flu outbreaks so far this season, prompting an official call for parents to get their kids vaccinated.