LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A grant being shared by the Little Rock police and UAMS will be used to address mental health issues in the city.

The $500,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance will create crisis response teams in the Little Rock Police Department for situations where officers face someone who is having a mental health crisis. The three-year grant will be used to hire four social workers who will work with the police in crisis response.

The teams will collaborate with the UAMS Department of Psychiatry in training to recognize a crisis situation and develop a response metric.

LRPD applied for the grant with assistance from Lisa Evans, director of the UAMS-staffed Pulaski County Regional Crisis Stabilization Unit. Evans is an associate professor in the UAMS psychiatry department and will also help train the Little Rock unit.

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.”

Evans added that by having directed response teams, other officers would be freed up to act on more serious crimes.

LRPD Chief Heath Helton said the first-of-its-kind program addresses an ongoing issue officers face.

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