Walpole shooting renews questions over police role in mental-health crises | Local News

With authorities withholding more details, pending investigation, into what prompted a New Hampshire state police officer to shoot and injure someone in Walpole earlier this month, the incident raises new questions about law enforcement officers’ ability to respond safely to health emergencies. mental.

Trooper Zachary Bernier shot Jacob Gasparo, 26, outside a home on County Road on December 4, shortly after the property responded to a report that Gasparo was behaving in a suicidal manner, according to the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.

Attorney General John M. Formula that Gasparo was hospitalized with a bullet wound sustained during a brief confrontation with Bernier and Walpole Police Officer Dean Wright. According to Formella, Wright did not fire his weapon.

State officials declined to say what prompted Bernier to shoot Gasparo three minutes after officers arrived at the 800 County Road residence. It is not clear if Gasparo owned a gun at the time.

While details on that incident remain murky, a 2019 report by InDepthNH.org found that in nearly half of New Hampshire police shootings over the past three decades, the person shot had Documented history of mental illness – well above the national. average of 25 percent.

An increasing number of state soldiers have been trained to help someone in a mental health crisis, a protocol that involves connecting that person to a medical professional, according to Russell Conti, the agency’s mental health and health coordinator.

Conte, a retired major with the New Hampshire State Police, said nearly 100 officers — about a third of the force — have received Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training since it became available in 2019. The troops previously had “minimal training.” On mental health, he said Wednesday, though much of their work involves dealing with issues, such as substance use disorder and domestic violence, often related to psychological problems.

“We knew as an organization…there was a need because of the number of people in crisis,” he said.

According to Conte, the 40-hour CIT training is not required for state soldiers, who said the officers were referred to the program by their supervisors. Other first responders in New Hampshire – including local police, firefighters and emergency medical teams – have begun to attend the course, too.

“Everyone is going to be that person, during the day or during the night, and it’s going to be on one of those calls,” he said. “…If we are going to provide service to those families that I think they deserve, we must possess those skills.”

Conte said that as part of the CIT program, soldiers are trained to identify and de-escalate mental health crises. This includes connecting the person in distress with a medical professional at one of the state’s 10 community mental health centers, either for an in-person assessment or a telehealth session, he said. In extreme cases, Conte said state police are trained to refer someone to involuntary hospitalization.

“There are plenty of times when you can get into a scene [and] It did not escalate to the point where any force should be used.”

Jeffrey W.R. Ward, the state’s chief assistant attorney general, declined Friday to say whether Bernier had CIT training.

The state police hope to eventually provide all officers with these instructions, according to Conte, who said it would “reduce these incidents that occur when the result is harmful to the person”, their families and the police.

But efforts are underway in New Hampshire to reduce interactions between law enforcement and people who deal with mental illness.

A bill recently submitted to the New Hampshire legislature would create a commission to study the role of mental health in incidents of police use of force. The legislation would also provide nearly $4 million to compensate local police agencies for enrolling their officers in CIT training.

Mental health centers based in Concord, Manchester and Nashua have also in recent years begun to send doctors to alleviate psychological crises – in some cases, accompanying or replacing police at the scene.

That model, which data shows has helped reduce mental hospital admissions, is the basis for a plan to make similar emergency resources available across the state. As part of the lawmakers’ package enacted two years ago to expand mental health services, mobile crisis response teams got a boost in June when the NH Executive Board approved $52 million for the 10 community service providers.

Conte, the New Hampshire Police’s Mental Health and Mental Health Coordinator, said mobile crisis response units will help provide better care for people with mental illness. As the state prepares to launch a new 988 mental health emergency hotline in July, Conte said medical professionals will often be sent to those calls directly, preventing police from seeking their help while going to the scene.

“By the time you get there, it’s more of a team effort,” he said. This pushes people towards a much better outcome. You will save lives. She already has.

But it remains unclear how quickly crisis response teams will be available for emergencies in rural areas and in odd hours, such as the call leading up to the county road shooting.

Due to staffing reduced, Monadnock Family Services in Keene — the mental health center in the Monadnock area — will be able to provide mobile units only during the day initially, according to CEO Phil Wisick.

Wisek said the MFS, which operates emergency psychiatric care and operates a 24/7 hotline, will need approximately 10 full-time employees to provide crisis response teams around the clock, given that the state contract for this service requires a two-person response per case. Emergency. As of Friday, he said the nonprofit only has about a third of the people needed to fully employ these mobile units when it launches next month.

“There are still a lot of concerns about the workforce that needs to do the job,” he said.

Wyzik declined to say whether the MFS had been contacted to help with the County Road incident, citing the organization’s confidentiality policy.

In other states with psychological crisis hotlines, he said the vast majority of calls are resolved by phone. But for emergencies that need personal intervention, Wisick said it’s too soon to know how doctors and law enforcement will work together.

“I think we’ll be in the discovery phase for this to see how it really turns out,” he said.

If you or a loved one has a mental illness, Monadnock Family Services offers 24/7 care at 357-4400 and in-person counseling at their area locations. The medical professionals will be available, beginning in January, at the state’s Rapid Response Access Point Service at 833-710-6477 and via the statewide 988 hotline beginning in July.

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