N.J. pilot program pairs troopers and mental health experts for some crisis calls

By Joe Atmonavag
nj.com

Cumberland County, NJ — The state attorney’s office announced a pilot program Tuesday that would pair state soldiers with mental health professionals when responding to specific crises — a tactic recently adapted by some law enforcement agencies across the country to better respond to health emergencies. mental. .

Acting Representative Andrew J. Brooke said the initiative, known as ARRIVE Together, or “Alternative Responses to Reduce Cases of Violence and Escalation,” will initially run out of state police’s Cumberland County stations based in Bridgeton and Port Norris.

Officials said the program is an acknowledgment that the way mental health crises are currently being handled is “unacceptable.”

Across New Jersey, according to the Attorney General’s Office, two out of three times an officer uses force, a civilian is identified as either mentally ill or under the influence, and more than half of fatal encounters with police occur in similar circumstances.

“In the modern age, we are asking law enforcement officers to take on roles they never expected when choosing service—marriage counselor, addiction specialist, social worker. Increasingly, officers are being asked to act like doctors and psychiatrists, and to determine which medication a person may be taking, or a condition mental health he may be suffering from,” Brooke said in a statement. “We need to respond to members of our community in crisis with doctors and compassion, and we need to divert mentally ill individuals away from the criminal justice system.”

Advocates have called for more mental health resources in New Jersey policing in recent years after individuals were killed by police while in apparent mental distress.

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Dr. Charles F. said: Boyer, founding director of Rescue and Social Justice: “For too long, law enforcement has been the first responder to mental health in black communities.” Preventable police shootings demonstrate the lack of imagination we have as a society in responding to mental health and drug abuse calls that put civilians and officers at risk. ‘Getting Together’ is the first step to leading the police community.

Law enforcement officials, as well as police union leaders, praised the initiative. Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, described the pilot as a “great de-escalation and resolution feature” for the various situations that police respond to.

Under the pilot program, State Police Soldiers outside Cumberland County stations in their police cars will be accompanied by a certified mental health examiner when responding to 911 calls related to mental, emotional or behavioral crises, including calls for confused or disoriented people, social care checks and suicide monitoring .

Mental health professionals are a state-funded role that already operates in every county in New Jersey. For the pilot, mental health professionals will be from the Cumberland County Guidance Center, which provides mental health services in South Jersey County.

The Rutgers University School of Public Health will conduct an evaluation of the pilot program and subsequently provide an evaluation of the program that will help determine the next phases of the ARRIVE Together initiative, according to the attorney general’s office.

New Jersey is now the latest state to adopt a program to better handle mental health crisis response.

A number of cities across the country have implemented similar programs or are currently experimenting with similar programs that send non-police personnel to certain nonviolent incidents, such as homelessness, people in mental distress, or some conflict.

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Police in Olympia, Washington, are participating in a “crisis response team” to defuse arguments and help people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

In Eugene, Oregon, the city has used a mental health services organization since 1989 that handles five 911 calls. According to the organization, it saves the city more than $2 million each year.

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