Submitted by John Guilfoil on behalf of the Bedford Police Department
Bedford’s Police Chief Robert Bongiorno has joined his colleagues in eight Middlesex County communities, which have joined together to share resources and better manage cases for mental health and a Regional Jail Diversion Program, secured a three-year $135,000 Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) grant to fund the continuation and expansion of their initiatives.
“This partnership is imperative to our communities to improve the way we handle mental health and substance abuse issues,” Chief Bongiorno said. “We are committed to assisting residents throughout the coalition find the assistance they need to live a healthy life.”
Editor’s Note: Bedford is one of the few communities with an AlAnon group specifically for parents of addicts and alcohol-dependent youth and adults. Click here to read a Letter to the Editor from a member of that group.
“The Department of Mental Health is pleased to be working with these communities in creating this innovative local collaboration among police departments,” said Department of Mental Health Commissioner Joan Mikula. “Crisis Intervention Team training and development, along with police-based jail diversion programs are effective community based interventions for individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis and provide treatment rather than incarceration. This training will give police officers the skills to appropriately handle these emergencies.”
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services’ Department of Mental Health awarded the coalition the grant, which will be broken up over the next three fiscal years. The coalition will receive $45,000 in fiscal 2016, 2017 and 2018. There is potential for renewal for fiscal years 2019 through 2023.
The police partnership, developed through the Concord District Court and the Regional Jail Diversion Program, is managed by departments in Bedford, Lincoln, Stow, Concord, Lexington, Acton, Carlisle, Maynard and Hanscom Air Force Base. They are committed to assisting people with mental health difficulties and diverting them from the criminal justice system.
As part of the coalition’s innovative model, police departments will work with a Clinical Coordinator, who will manage the Jail Diversion Program across all communities. The primary role of the Clinical Coordinator will be to train officers in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and to serve on the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The coordinator will also work with each department to create a diversion strategy that is appropriate for any individual who comes in contact with police.
“We believe that the Clinical Coordinator will equip us with the necessary tools to provide mental health and diversion services that will help put citizens into treatment as opposed to behind bars,” Chief Dubois said. “This is a huge step in the right direction for the coalition.”
As part of the program, 30 percent of officers (dispatch included) across the region, and all lieutenants and sergeants, will be trained in MHFA. Following the completion of MHFA, 20 percent of all officers throughout the coalition will be educated to be part of the CIT.
Officers in all eight communities report that the vast majority of their property crimes, assaults and larcenies involve individuals with mental health issues and/or substance abuse problems.
“The issue for the majority of our coalition communities centers on the lack of resources needed to connect individuals with the necessary services and support to help them find and stay in treatment,” Chief Fisher said. “At times, officers must make an arrest to get individuals into a safer situation. Now, we are be able to offer services and treatment for their underlying mental health problem or addiction issues.”
The coalition partnered with Eliot Community Human Services, which will provide MHFA and CIT training on an annual basis.
“Eliot is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with the Coalition of Police Departments in diverting people with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system and into services,” said Aaron Katz, Director of Mental Health Services at Eliot. “The population we serve in these town has truly benefited from the increase in services, training, and commitment provided by these police departments and partners.
The initiative has the complete support of the police departments in the region:
“We are committed to supporting those with mental illnesses and ensuring that they are diverted from the criminal justice system and placed into the appropriate services whenever possible,” Chief O’Connor said. “We are grateful for the funding from the state to continue the success of our endeavors.”
Added Stow Police Chief William Bosworth: “This is a very important program, and it is made possible thanks to the unprecedented level of cooperation and teamwork that exists among our police departments. I am very proud of the work we are all doing together.”
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services issued a total of $1.9 million in grants to police departments to allow existing programs to continue. Funding was also provided to expand the number of law enforcement agencies developing jail diversion programs that strive to provide treatment instead of incarceration for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis.