Submitted by Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian
The leaders of more than a dozen Middlesex County law enforcement agencies, including Chief Robert Bongiorno of Bedford, today announced they have formally joined the White House-led Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative, focused on reducing the number of mentally ill individuals awaiting trial in local jails.
“In June 2016, we launched the Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative to support communities who want to use data to be smarter about diverting people with mental illness away from the criminal justice system and into community based treatment,” said U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil. “We are excited that DDJ has grown to include over 120 diverse communities across the country, reaching more than 90 million individuals.”
“Here in Middlesex County, we are very fortunate to have law enforcement agencies that work closely and progressively on issues that affect our community members. Here in Bedford, we have worked closely with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office and our neighboring cities and towns to put forward initiatives that will make a real difference in the battles against mental illness and substance abuse,” said Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno. “I am proud that the White House is committed to this mission.”
Nationwide, 64 percent of those being held in local jails suffer from mental illness, while 68 percent have a substance use disorder.
“Today, 46 percent of those entering our custody report a history of mental illness and 75 percent of those under the care of our mental health staff also suffer from a co-occuring substance use disorder,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian. “The Obama Administration’s emphasis on diverting low-level offenders away from incarceration and towards treatment could not have come at a more crucial time for our office. The DDJ initiative will provide resources to better safeguard our communities, while increasing public safety by getting people the community-based care they need.”
“Police-led diversion programs have shown remarkably success and continued promise as municipal police officers address the challenges of mental illness and addiction,” said Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan. “By diverting these vulnerable members of our communities in the appropriate programs instead of jail cells, we lesson the strain on the criminal justice system while giving people the best possible chance to retake their lives.”
What Other Departments Say
“Mental health is one of the most common challenges faced by law enforcement officers and first responders, and it is incumbent upon us to help break the cycle of incarceration that too often exacerbates many of the problems faced by our residents,” said Ashland Police Chief Craig Davis.
“A proactive and community-based approach to the challenges of mental health, hoarding, and drug abuse is promising, and it is nothing new in Middlesex County. We have demonstrated that outreach and community policing policies improve outcomes for the community members we interact with and reduce call volume to already taxed police and fire departments,” said Billerica Police Chief Daniel Rosa. “I am grateful to the President for taking on this vital issue.”
“The cycle of incarceration has proven itself ineffective, and diversion the answer in many cases. But diversion and intervention start in the community, where our officers are walking and interacting with the public each and every day,” said Boxborough Police Chief Warren Ryder. “We are committed to working with our partners to help those suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders, and it is encouraging to find support at the highest levels of our federal government.”
“We are proud to be among the participating law enforcement agencies in Middlesex County and New England leading the way in this important work,” said Cambridge Police Commissioner Christopher J. Burke. “By joining both the Data-Driven Justice and Police Data initiatives, the Cambridge Police Department remains committed to increasing its transparency with data, policies, and procedures and advancing the innovative solutions we offer with our community partners to best serve vulnerable populations.”
“We have seen that mental illness and drug addiction go hand-in-hand, and these epidemics recognize neither race, nor wealth, nor gender. Law enforcement partners across Massachusetts are dedicated to finding better solutions than prison and incarceration for these people, and we recognize that data plays a tremendous role here. This is a necessary initiative, and I applaud the federal government for getting involved,” said Chelmsford Police Chief James Spinney.
“By diverting low level offenders with mental health/substance abuse into appropriate outpatient care options; we can significantly lessen stigmatizing those needing treatment as criminal offenders, reduce unnecessary expensive emergency room visits, and decrease volatile situations that pose significant risk to these populations. When left untreated a person’s behavior is exacerbated over time and often results in crisis situations involving the police, many of which end tragically. “said Interim Dracut Police Chief Neil Ouellette.
“I am proud to stand with my partners in Middlesex County and across the country in supporting a smart, data-driven initiative aimed at improving the quality of life of some of our most valuable residents,” said North Reading Police Chief Michael Murphy. “By using nationwide best practices and effectively using the vast sums of data at our fingertips, those of us on the front lines can be better equipped to respond to the mental health and addiction crises that our nation faces.
“Municipal police are committed to assisting our residents suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders, but while we respond to the challenges presented to us, we are simply not funded or equipped to handle them alone,” said Reading Police Chief Mark Segalla. “That is what makes today’s announcement so important. The support of our partners on the county, state, and federal end is vital.”
“Despite organizational philosophical changes, best efforts, additional training, the application of best known and available practices that include strong partnerships with all the local treatment programs/providers, the courts, correctional facilities, the District Attorney’s Office, and area nonprofit organizations the current mental health and opioid crisis continues to intensify,” said Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan. “We recognize we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of this crisis and that participation in programs/partnerships such as the White House-led Data Driven Justice Initiative will only increase our chances of stymieing the progress of these diseases that bring families and communities to their knees. We look forward to working with this progressive group to develop best practices, training, and solutions.”
“The Watertown Police Department is excited to work in collaboration with our law enforcement partners to better serve our entire population,” said Chief Michael Lawn. “We are committed to finding more effective ways in handling such important social issues through the DDJ Initiative.”
Today’s announcement comes as President Obama is in Pittsburgh for the White House Frontiers Conference, which is focusing in part on DDJ and disrupting the cycle of incarceration. DDJ seeks to reduce unnecessary pre-trial incarceration by enhancing the use of new and existing data, and by helping spread best practices.
Announcing their participation today are the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office and the Arlington, Ashland, Bedford, Billerica, Boxborough, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, North Reading, Reading, Tewksbury and Watertown Police Departments. The Holliston, Hopkinton and Sherborn Police Departments will also participate through collaboration with Ashland.