News from the desk of Sheriff James Potter

Mental Health Awareness

We all face different difficulties and stressful situations each day, this includes our deputies that face all the regular life challenges, but also unique challenges while working in the law enforcement profession.

May is mental health awareness month, a time I want to bring attention to the importance of mental health and the resources available to victims of crime, inmates in the jail, as well as all DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office employees.

The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) of 2017 was signed into law in January 2018, recognizing law enforcement agencies’ need for support in their ongoing efforts to protect the mental health and well-being of their employees. I believe well-balanced mental and psychological health is essential for law enforcement deputies to effectively work to keep our community and our country safe from violence and crime.

DCSO law enforcement deputies complete advanced training in Mental Health Awareness, partnering with Charlotte Behavioral Healthcare in Punta Gorda. Crisis Intervention Training is required for all DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office staff, including law enforcement deputies, detention deputies and civilians. The 40-hour course from Florida Department of Law Enforcement is completed at DeSoto Memorial Hospital and offered once a quarter.

During the Crisis Intervention Training, staff work through information and scenario-based training to learn how to assist individuals through crisis situations and come to a peaceful solution. Our law enforcement deputies also go through critical incident stress management training to thoroughly understand how to quickly act and de-escalate in high-stress situations, while providing aid to the individual(s) involved.

DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office 9-1-1 Telecommunicators undergo both a four-hour stress management training and four-hour critical incident training every two years. Being the initial first responders to act in any emergency, dispatchers face a different level of involvement within these high-stress environments. Our dispatchers are dedicated professionals acting as the lifeline between callers in distress and the first responders who aid on scene. It is crucial they are confident and comfortable to communicate efficiently with individuals during crisis situations, remaining calm, collected and focused while quickly making critical decisions, gathering essential information and communicating to effectively dispatch the appropriate response.

I am proud to share we are working in collaboration with Charlotte Behavioral Health Center to build a Jail Diversion/Court Liaison program along with an Outpatient Jail Mental Health & Substance Abuse Clinician, providing jail-based services to inmates with psychiatric and co-occuring disorders, such as mental illnesses and substance abuse.

The primary function of the program is to facilitate access to appropriate treatment services in the jail and within the community by providing assessment, referrals, psychoeducational groups, medication maintenance and psych/substance abuse evaluations, while providing links to community for services. This includes mental health services, substance abuse, domestic violence and other resources to assist inmates to succeed in the community upon being release.

The Outpatient master’s level Clinician helps maintain and provide therapy to individuals in the jail, working directly with inmates daily to help them process any stress, education and mental health needs. We provide education with skills based on both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy services, connecting inmates to community treatment services through contacts within all referral sources. As with other services provided for the benefit of inmates in the jail, the Outpatient master’s level Clinician is provided at no-cost to the taxpayers of DeSoto County by utilizing the Inmate Welfare Fund.

As we build and expand this program, our goal is to help reduce recidivism of people with mental illnesses and substance abuse by providing access to appropriate treatment. We want to reduce incarceration of people with mental illnesses charged with low-level offenses by providing alternative programs. We plan to enhance public safety by freeing up jail beds to make room for violent offenders, while providing humane and confidential care for people with serious mental illnesses involved in the criminal justice system.

What about victims of crime? Our Victim’s Advocate Program assists victims of crimes by providing a variety of services, helping victims and witnesses of a crime through the healing process. Our victim’s advocate recognizes the healing process can look very different between cases and individuals. We strive to provide non-judgmental, emotional crisis counseling, support and resources for those involved as needed. However, after the needs of the victim(s) are assessed, if a referral is required, the victim(s) will be referred to a community Mental Health Counselor. With our victim’s advocate providing emotional crisis support, this allows the opportunity to evaluate and determine if a referral to a mental health professional is necessary.

There is help available to you 24/7. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please reach out through one of the following resources:

Florida Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-500-1119

Mental Health Community Centers, Inc. 863-993-9266

National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, dial 988

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Department of Children and Families Florida Abuse Hotline 1-800-962-2873

DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office, text/call 9-1-1


We will always be here for you, DeSoto County.

Be Kind, Stay Safe & God Bless,
Sheriff James F. Potter