WHITMAN — The Whitman Police Department is taking advantage of a local grant, which has afforded several South Shore communities the services of a mental health clinician to ride along with a dispatched officer.
The program was launched in January 2019.
Katrina Lee, jail diversion coordinator for High Point Middleborough outpatient clinic, rides with a Whitman supervising officer on Friday nights, allowing for immediate assistance in cases of domestic violence, substance abuse and other mental health-related crises.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Mental Health funded the mission titled: a Regional Co Response Jail/Arrest Diversion Project (RJDP) with $45,000 in conjunction with High Point contracted services approved in 2018.
Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton said the proactive approach is similar to one departments have implemented in the past years to assist with opioid addiction, treating respective mental illnesses rather than waiting until the problem escalates. He said the shifting mindset is being applied and supported through the new program.
Benton referred to the awareness as a step in the right direction as officers are better equipped with the knowledge of an underlying mental illness.
“It is getting everyone in the room: police, fire and hospitals to help these people. If the people get help, then get out of a facility and they don’t have other services it becomes a merry-go round for them,” said Benton.
There are times when a resident refuses intervention.
“They can decline but Lee can point them in the right direction for services,” said Benton. “We are getting into the game. We are way behind in treating mental health.”
Feedback has been positive from the officers, he said.
“It’s in the delivery,” Benton said. “We want to make sure we are implementing something and give it a chance to succeed. Invariably things come up … we have issues to address – we do it together in partnership. Department heads and supervisors of police and fire met to address concerns at the beginning of the program.
“Paperwork and other expectations needed to be communicated to properly get the program a jump start in the community as with any new program,” he said.
According to the studies and content in the grant request, some common disorders that are seen most frequently when a law enforcement officer is requested are: depression, anxiety, mood disorders; substance abuse is often an underlying issue or compounding component, self-harm and domestic violence.
A statistic used to support the grant request through the National Alliance on Mental Health NAMI”
“In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police that get medical help. As a result, two million people with mental illness are booked into jail each year,” according to a statistic used to support the grant request through the National Alliance on Mental Health- NAMI.
Lee, as the clinician who is seeing firsthand how the program is evolving has expressed her commitment.
“I am excited to be a part of this program,” said Lee.
She has worked with victims of crime alongside the DA’s Office for the majority of her career. She is able to utilize her knowledge along with her clinical skills responding first hand to help people in the six communities.
“It is the perfect blend of my experiences. I’m hopeful that my background has proven helpful to the people I‘ve spoken with to date,” Lee said. “I really feel fortunate to be working with these departments because everyone from the chiefs to the officers I work with, are incredibly compassionate and genuinely want to help the members of their communities.”
“As a group we want to see people with mental illnesses referred to appropriate agencies to receive support rather than having them brought through the criminal justice system if that can be avoided,” Lee said. “In cases where it can’t I am able to make referrals to the Mental Health Court, which can better address the mental health needs of the individual.”
The grant guidelines stated that, “The co-response diversion model provides an opportunity to apply immediate, community based clinical services when and where they are needed in partnership with police officers responding to behavioral health calls. A consistent clinical presence in a police station has shown to have an overall beneficial effect on law enforcement personnel’s attitudes towards individuals with behavioral health conditions and on vicarious skill building and knowledge. … The overall goal of our RJDP is to steer people with mental health difficulties away from the criminal justice system and into services that lead to mental health recovery as stated in the grant outline and project approval.”
The approved grant was awarded to Bridgewater Police Chief Christopher Delmonte and includes, East and West Bridgewater — including Bridgewater State University police —and Middleboro police.