Mental health clinician to respond with area police

  • The Greenfield Station on High Street in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The Montague Public Safety Complex on Turnpike Road in Turners Falls. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2021 5:06:07 PM

Three Franklin County police departments have teamed up with Clinical & Support Options (CSO), allowing them to work with a mental health clinician, starting May 12, when they receive calls involving mental health issues.

The nonprofit, which operates licensed behavioral health clinics throughout Western Massachusetts, will provide a master’s-level clinician who will work out of the Greenfield Police Station and be dispatched regionally, not only in Greenfield, but to Montague and Deerfield, too. When called upon, the full-time regional co-response clinician — who is yet to be announced — will arrive to the scene with an officer to provide expertise in the areas of emotional and mental health and behavioral de-escalation.

“Jail diversion and de-escalation strategies have been a longtime focus of CSO, especially in Franklin County,” CSO President and CEO Karin Jeffers said. “Our partnering police departments have been committed supporters of these community policing efforts. This sanctioned co-response position is the next logical progression in that ongoing cooperative relationship.”

Greenfield Deputy Police Chief William Gordon said several funding sources have been identified, so there will be no additional cost to the three towns. CSO also plans to seek out grants.

Crisis intervention

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. has talked about having a mental health clinician either on staff or on call since even before last year, but especially when individuals and groups started calling for defunding local police shortly after George Floyd was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis last May.

Haigh has said that though his officers are all trained in de-escalation, it would not hurt to have someone from the mental health field help with calls that don’t necessarily require a police presence. Because most calls come through 911, police typically arrive before anyone else.

Gordon said over the past three years, the Greenfield Police Department has been funded by and working closely with the state Department of Mental Health to provide advanced training to officers in behavioral health crisis intervention.

“The most logical next step is to use that training to form a team for which the goal is to divert, where appropriate, individuals from the criminal justice system to behavioral health treatment,” Gordon said. “This will be accomplished through the partnerships between existing community resources, such as CSO, embedded and responding with our partnering law enforcement agencies.”

Police receive many calls each year related to mental health, Gordon said, and many calls involve the same people. He said police are successful a great deal of the time when they de-escalate a situation, but that police uniforms can cause added anxiety in some cases.

“We just think this is more appropriate,” he said. “The clinician will ride along with us from the beginning. That way, they see what’s happening from the moment we arrive, and we’re there to make sure all is secure.”

Gordon said the idea is to keep the person who is in crisis, others on the scene, police and the clinician safe. Situations where the clinician would ride along will include attempted suicides, someone battling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or someone having a psychotic break.

“Those aren’t crimes, so it shouldn’t just be police going,” he said.

Gordon said he believes the new partnership with CSO will reduce same-person calls and recidivism, and provide follow-up help and care.

Invaluable partnership

Montague Police Chief Christopher Williams said establishing a regional Co-Responder Jail Diversion Program in coordination with the Greenfield and Deerfield police departments and CSO will be an invaluable partnership.

“This opportunity will be an integral part in providing emergency crisis services to those in need,” Williams said. “Having trained behavior health clinicians embedded within the three police departments will give those in crisis a much better option for the proper emergency support and services as they are needed.”

“All three police departments are looking forward to enhancing our capabilities in the community by engaging mental health professionals to assist citizens in crisis,” agreed Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. “The faster a person in crisis can be de-escalated and identify avenues for correct treatment, the better the experience will be for them.”

The co-response clinician will be a CSO employee and will provide residents with direct access to care. In addition to on-the-scene help, the clinician will manage referrals and provide follow-up care when appropriate.

“The goal is for people to remain in their community and be treated in their community,” CSO Vice President of Acute and Day Programs Jennifer LaRoche said. “Our local police are highly trained and caring people. But, the very virtue of the power represented in a police uniform can set up a problematic power differential in mental health-oriented situations.”

She said the partnership provides a resource for local police departments as they work to respond in a way that results in the most positive outcomes for all.

LaRoche said she plans to ride along with Greenfield Community Resource Officer Laura Gordon during the last week of April and first week of May, in advance of the co-response clinician’s start on May 12.

“We’ll be working with Laura and the department to discuss what will constitute a co-response,” LaRoche said. “You don’t always want just police on a scene because it can trigger something in some. We need to make sure people are getting the help they need and the support and follow-up after.”

Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said she applauds the partnership and the efforts to de-escalate policing interventions, saying she is confident that having a master’s-level clinician will “help improve the emotional and mental health aspects during very challenging situations.”

To learn more about CSO’s urgent-access mental health services throughout Western Massachusetts, visit csoinc.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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