New pilot program in NJ pairs up troopers, mental health experts

A new pilot program is being launched in one part of South Jersey that brings together mental health professionals and law enforcement personnel to jointly respond to behavioral health crises.

Acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Brooke said the ARRIVE Together programme, which stands for Alternative Responses to Reduce Cases of Violence and Escalation, is designed to address the relationship between mental health and the police.

Benefit from the combination of law enforcement and mental health experts

Brooke explained that the program will partner a plainclothes soldier in New Jersey with a licensed mental health practitioner to jointly respond to mental health crisis situations.

“Two out of every three use of force incidents involve a person experiencing a mental health crisis or under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” Brooke said. “This is shocking.”

Brooke notes that in many crisis situations, police officers are required to act as marriage counselors, drug experts, and therapists, whether or not they have specialized training, but ARRIVE Together can change things.

How will it work?

New Jersey Police Chief Colonel Patrick Callahan said that when an emergency call is received, the dispatcher or public safety telecommuters will ask a series of questions “and then the officer and mental health examiner will decide together if this is an appropriate call to answer.”

If it is determined that a mental health doctor is needed, Brock said a mental health doctor will not intervene until the area is safe.

Under the program, Brock said, a state soldier would arrive and “help ensure the security of the area, and then once the scene was safe they would send in a mental health practitioner who would take the lead in responding.”

By having a mental health practitioner take the lead, Brooke said the benefit is “this reduces the likelihood of them escaping into violence, and increases the likelihood that an individual in crisis will be able to get the help they need.”

New Jersey Police Chief Colonel Patrick Callahan at the daily coronavirus press conference at the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ on May 19, 2020 (pool photo by Chris Pedota/NorthJersey.com-USA Today Network)

Mental health clinicians will respond to calls involving mental health incidents, confused or disoriented people, wellbeing checks, and suicide threats but not for motor vehicle accidents or what are considered serious accidents.

The pilot also calls on soldiers to respond to the scene in civilian clothes.

Callahan said that sometimes when a law enforcement officer arrives on the scene in uniform for a mental health crisis, the uniform can inflame the situation.

“I think we need to change that perception by having a soldier in civilian clothes and bringing that temperature down,” Callahan said.

Brooke believes the program will also help strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve.

What then?

For now, the program will run as a pilot from the State Police’s Cumberland County Centers in Port Norris and Bridgestone. The program is scheduled to start on December 2.

“We will be evaluating it in partnership with the Rutgers School of Public Health, and if successful, we will look to expand it statewide,” Brooke said.

This type of joint response model is used in some states, Brooke said, but this is the first time it’s been used in New Jersey.

The program is “an important step we can take to make it safer for officers, make it safer for civilians, and reduce the use of force, which is something everyone wants,” he said.

Brooke said Cumberland County was selected for the pilot program because most law enforcement services are provided by the New Jersey State Police.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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