Local police report great success with CSO partnership

  • Licensed clinician Kaitlin Richotte was assigned to the Greenfield, Deerfield and Montague police departments as part of a regional collaboration with Clinical & Support Options (CSO) that began last summer. STAFF FILE PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2022 8:40:16 PM

One year after three local police departments secured a state Department of Mental Health grant allowing them to work with Clinical & Support Options (CSO) for mental health response services, police officials say the results speak for themselves.

Of the 182 completed evaluations the Greenfield Police Department conducted from May 2021 to April of this year, 119 people, or 65%, were diverted from being arrested or being brought to the hospital, according to acting Greenfield Police Chief William Gordon. Without this partnership, Gordon said they “would have had no other option” than to bring someone to the hospital.

“It’s a complete culture change with the department,” Gordon said. “There’s more compassion and an empathetic attitude to mental health … from the command to the dispatchers, from top to bottom.”

Greenfield secured a Crisis Intervention Team grant and partnered with the Deerfield and Montague police departments to earn a regional Co-Responder Jail Diversion grant, which allowed the departments to partner with CSO. The Department of Mental Health has been administering jail-diversion grants since 2007 and approximately 175 communities are covered by these grants.

Currently, two full-time clinicians are embedded within the Greenfield Police Department and co-respond on calls for all three departments with daily coverage. If a mental health crisis arises when a clinician is not working, the departments are able to call CSO’s mobile response team, which will help officers coordinate a response.

In Deerfield, Sgt. Jennifer Bartak wrote in an email that the department responded to 22 mental health-related calls from Feb. 1 to April 30. Of those calls, 12 people were diverted from an involuntary Section 12 — meaning the person was admitted to a hospital by the police or a licensed physician/clinician — through the direct help of a clinician or in collaboration with CSO’s office. She added the “value of this initiative has been remarkable.”

“Officers have witnessed firsthand the value of the program,” Bartak said. “Being able to have an open dialogue with CSO and to be able to ask a professional mental health clinician questions has given officers a greater understanding, depth and empathy to persons experiencing a mental health emergency.”

Bartak said Deerfield police officers are “routinely calling the CSO office” if mental health resources are needed for a call, and that her coworkers have a “great interest in the program” and what it’s done for the community.

CSO Vice President of Acute and Day Programs Jennifer LaRoche said the two clinicians provide on-scene help, as well as follow-up calls the next day, which educate people on what mental health resources are available. The goal, she noted, is to prevent future crises.

“The follow-up is almost as important as the initial response to the crisis call,” LaRoche said. “A lot of people in the communities we serve are not aware of their options when there’s a mental health crisis.”

LaRoche said the police “are becoming much more comfortable spending time with people and understanding what their needs are,” which Gordon echoed.

“Not every nail needs a hammer, so to speak,” LaRoche said. “(Police are) not becoming social workers, but they’re becoming more comfortable having conversations with people and understanding people more.”

“It makes a friendly environment for people in crisis,” Gordon said. “Crisis events aren’t rushed.”

The types of calls clinicians co-respond to include domestic disputes/violence, people making suicidal statements, and family crises where a parent might be unable to control a child, according to LaRoche.

LaRoche said CSO and its clinicians look at mental health crises through a “trauma-informed lens.” Their goal is to defuse situations and inform people of what resources are available, if they want to pursue them.

“We want to meet people where they’re at, literally and figuratively,” she said. “Strength-based and trauma-informed … it’s very important (our clinicians) all come from that same perspective. You can’t just throw any clinician in this position.”

As the program continues to bear fruit, other towns in the county and throughout the Pioneer Valley have partnered with CSO or similar organizations. At the beginning of May, the Erving Police Department partnered with the Gill, Bernardston, Northfield, Wendell, Leverett and Warwick departments. Additionally, Gordon said Northampton, Amherst, Hadley and Easthampton have also started or have taken steps to implement a co-responder program.

As mental health needs continue to rise throughout the pandemic, Bartak said the need for these programs is ever more pronounced.

“One thing that has been evident to (the Deerfield Police Department), however, is the need for more mental health collaborations and more co-responders on duty to assist with mental health related calls and the officers responding,” Bartak said. “There has been a notable increase in mental health calls over the past few years and 911 is significantly utilized as persons feel it raises to an emergency level.”

LaRoche agreed, noting that individual departments have been approaching CSO.

“The police really have to see the value, and the positive outcomes of this past year. Other departments have seen and heard that, and that’s exciting for us,” she said. “People are getting the right services the right way.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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