As the Chapel Hill Police Department's Crisis Unit nears its 50th anniversary this year, it has continued to change and grow to keep up with the needs of residents in Chapel Hill.
The unit's role is to provide support and help for people in crisis situations, including domestic violence and mental health issues.
Crisis Unit Supervisor Sarah Belcher said five crisis counselors respond to calls to the Crisis Unit phone number as well as with police officers to respond on the scene. The unit's number is 919-968-2806.
“Whatever an individual perceives to be a crisis is what we will provide some support and response around,” Belcher said.
Most recently, in October, the Crisis Unit added a new position for a crisis counselor specifically geared toward the Chapel Hill Transit system.
“Chapel Hill has a free bus system and this is something that a lot of our community members take regular use of,” Belcher said. “I think transit does have a large variety of community members that use that resource, and it was identified that it could be good to have some additional support available to respond to things that could come up in those areas.”
Troy Manns, the crisis counselor hired for the job, said his role in transit spaces is to build relationships with community members who may need assistance to feel comfortable with reaching out for help. This includes the Town’s unhoused population — Manns helps provide resources they may need.
“I feel like I'm a bridge to those individuals and they feel very comfortable talking to me, and that opens the door for them to be able to get the help that they need,” he said. “That's a major part of somebody's life. Changing is being comfortable with the resources that are there for them and feeling alright with talking to someone.”
In June, the Crisis Unit also hired a peer support specialist, another position that is meant to make community members more comfortable with understanding and navigating their crises.
Manns said he will be more present at bus stops and on buses in order to connect with those around him so they know how and where to ask for help.
Chapel Hill Police Department Public Information Officer Alex Carrasquillo said he is hopeful that residents will accept Manns' offers to help if they become familiar with him.
Manns said he will not pressure residents but will be there to share that resources are available.
He said another part of his role is de-escalating situations on public transit or at bus stops and talking with individuals to resolve them.
“This helps our drivers tremendously because it takes the pressure off of them having to deal with situations where they can focus on driving and the safety of the vehicle,” Manns said.
Many situations addressed by crisis counselors are also addressed by police officers. Belcher said counselors may accompany police officers to crisis situations or arrive at the scene after the initial emergency has been addressed to provide more information or support.
Crisis counselors also work to train police officers and other organizations on how to address crises involving mental health or substance abuse, Manns said.
Officers responding to calls sometimes do not have the time they would like to dedicate to a specific situation, and it is helpful to have a crisis counselor who can stay on the scene and provide additional information once everyone is safe, Police Sergeant Charlie Pardo said.
Belcher said the Crisis Unit has a long history of working with the Town of Chapel Hill, and it continues to adapt its positions and function in response to feedback from the community. The added positions will continue to be reviewed to make them more effective, she added.
“We want to provide the best customer service that we can offer to our community,” Pardo said.
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