People often don't know how to deal with people suffering from mental illnesses, especially when the mentally ill are going through a crisis.

That includes law enforcement officers, who may have limited experience dealing with mentally ill people.

That's why the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Clermont Police Department and LifeStream Behavioral Center, have partnered to pilot a new program – the Mobile Crisis Response Service – focused on enhancing the effectiveness of law enforcement when dealing with mentally ill people in south Lake County.

The point of the program is to keep the mentally ill out of jail and get them proper care instead.

The program's secondary goal is to promote the use of Smart911, an enhanced public-safety information system for first responders that empowers citizens, including those with mental illness or other special needs, to register their health information and offense history with dispatch centers to use in case of an emergency.

“It’s a win-win program and one I think will make a positive impact on our mentally ill consumers and on the community. It’s a great partnership when you think about it,” said Clermont Police Chief Charles Broadway during a press conference Tuesday announcing the effort.

The two-year exploratory program is one of 34 being funded nationwide by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP).

The $250,000 grant was awarded to Lake County, which in turn sub-contracted with LifeStream for the program’s planning and implementation. The grant was not enough to implement the program throughout Lake County but a successful stint may open doors for additional funds down the line, officials said.

This week, supervisors from both law enforcement agencies began crisis intervention training taught by LifeStream instructors so it can be passed on to all officers.

Topics include safety protocol for officers, civilians and mentally ill individuals, active listening skills, how to identify symptoms and signs of mental illness, techniques on how to diffuse situations involving the mentally ill, suicide prevention and more.

A $25,000 virtual interactive simulator purchased with drug dealer money housed at the Clermont PD allows officers to act out possible scenarios, providing hands-on experience in situations they could encounter.

When the program takes effect in early 2017, a licensed LifeStream clinician will be stationed at the Clermont PD.

Dispatchers will then have the ability to send the clinician, along with officers, to calls involving people suffering from conditions such as anxiety disorders, autism, bipolar disorders, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and co-occurring disorders -- or mental illness conditions combined with drug/alcohol abuse.

LifeStream Adult Clinical Services Director Karen Rogers said the clinician’s main goal will be to diffuse situations involving mentally ill individuals.

An on-call staff will be available to help officers after hours.

“This program gives authorities another option,” Rogers said.

She said that in 2014, law enforcement officers in Lake County transported over 2,000 mentally ill people, and in 2015, 400 people were involuntarily committed by officers.

Rogers also explained that since 2008, LifeStream has been working with similar programs that stress ongoing treatment in lieu of jail.

“In doing that, we’re educating the community about the idea that mental illness is treatable, that jail is not treatment, that prison is not treatment, that treatment doesn’t have to be institutional...” Rogers said.

Rogers said the program should also reduce general fear and fear of law enforcement in people with mental illness and reduce the fear coming from the community regarding mental illness.

“We want to make our community a safe place to live, work and socialize in and we want to have a great life despite mental illness,” she said.

Sinead O’Hare, a licensed therapist with LifeStream, said the program’s biggest benefit is getting mentally ill people treated before they are arrested.