Easthampton, Hadley will send clinicians on some police calls

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Staff Writer
Published: 6/7/2021 5:20:53 PM

Easthampton and Hadley will soon launch a program that will send a mental health clinician to respond to some 911 calls, such as those involving mental health crises and substance use.

The program will send staff from the behavioral and mental health organization Clinical & Support Options (CSO) along with police officers to respond to these calls starting sometime this summer.

“Sometimes (911) calls are for mental health crises or substance use concerns or questions,” said Jennifer LaRoche, vice president of acute and day programs for CSO. “Sometimes a police officer is required because of the safety of the situation, but there are other times a clinician can go and meet the person where they’re at, provide resources and a full evaluation, and connect that person to services.”

The program is still in its early planning stages, LaRoche said, and many details, such as how many clinicians will work with the police departments, are still falling into place. CSO currently employs one full-time crisis response clinician in its Florence office but may hire additional staff members with experience in this area.

The program may involve a clinician riding along with a police officer to certain calls, according to LaRoche, or the clinician may meet police at the scene or respond to the call independently, depending on the situation.

Following increased calls locally and around the country for alternatives to policing after Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes, other communities are also attempting to establish programs that use mental health professionals. CSO launched a similar program in April serving Greenfield, Montague and Deerfield, and Northampton officials intend to establish a Department of Community Care, which would operate independently from the police and send unarmed responders to address nonviolent calls.

In an initial report by the Mayor’s Pledge Work Group to reimagine policing in Easthampton, a key recommendation was to establish non-police, community-led responses for health and safety concerns.

The pilot program ties in with the city’s ongoing efforts to involve mental health professionals in incidents involving youth and nonviolent calls, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said.

“The idea is really combining that mental health component with community policing with harm reduction,” she said. “And right now, that’s very, very relevant.”

The program’s concept is not new, LaRoche said, as CSO currently works with area police departments to send a clinician out with officers on certain calls. But the coming program would formalize and expand this initiative.

Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti said officers are looking forward to working with CSO on more calls.

“The way I envision this is that we’ll have clinicians on a schedule to go out with our officers, then come out on an on-call basis,” Alberti said. “But on an ideal basis, we want them with us when we respond to these calls.”

The department currently responds to “plenty of mental health calls,” Alberti said, involving “people who aren’t in a good place and need to talk to somebody.”

“This will be an opportunity for, instead of police responding and waiting for CSO, CSO will be with us,” he said, “so they’ll be able to start triaging and start to help right away.”

The clinician is currently funded by CSO, but the department is applying to the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health to secure additional grant funding for the program, Alberti said.

Sending clinicians along on calls will be a step in the right direction for connecting people who need assistance with the right resources, according to LaRoche.

“This kind of partnership with the community — meeting people where they’re at — is exactly what we need to do to deescalate situations and get people into services if they need them,” she said, “and get the support out into the community.”

The program will formally launch at a yet-to-be-determined date this summer, according to LaRoche.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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