SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Suffolk Police Department is looking to hire a mental health consultant in order to help officers better deal with those who suffer from mental illness.

Suffolk City Council unanimously approved adding the new position at their meeting Wednesday night at the encouragement of Interim Police Chief Al Chandler, who described mental health as “one of the largest issues we are having in law enforcement right now.”

Chandler said since the pandemic, encounters with those suffering from mental illness have become more burdensome for officers. Mainly because support services have been harder to come by.

More than half of Virginia’s state-run mental health hospitals aren’t accepting any new patients and there is still no concrete timeline for when admissions will resume. 

“If there is no psychiatric bed available, our officers really are not left with many options,” Chandler said.

He said the new position would help find those options.

“Take a look at our most frequent citizens we find in crisis and be able to provide them a level of care prior to getting them to a point of crisis,” Chandler said. “It’s two-fold in that they may also help our officers understand mental health problems that they may, or their families may find themselves dealing with.”

The city is looking for the preferred applicant to have three to five years of experience and be a licensed medical provider.

Salary information was not immediately available.