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New London safety response model can help police and public

What if you or a loved one experiences a mental health challenge that might normally involve a call to the New London police?

What if, instead of strictly a police response, your call was met with a different kind of intervention — involvement of a skilled mental health navigator, a person who will be there in an ongoing, holistic way?

This could be the new reality if New London succeeds in expanding our highly successful opioid navigator model to meet new challenges.

A recently released report by the Public Safety Policy Review Committee recommended increased funding to the Department of Human Services and that the New London Police Department expand its Crisis Intervention Team Training program and Mobile Outreach, both operated by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

CIT educates police about mental health issues and helps police on calls involving individuals with a mental health condition. While much progress has been made over the past 20 years, the goal is for the entire New London police force to be able to identify individuals with mental health concerns and partner with social services and mental health staff, using their resources and support. Mobile Outreach often provides psychiatric emergency response and obviates the necessity for a police response.

The report found that, without appropriate levels of funding for “mental health care, affordable, high-quality health care, accessible housing, healthy food options, good paying jobs, quality education options,” the police will continue to be thrust into a role of addressing various social issues they can never be properly equipped to address.

People with a mental health condition are not necessarily more likely to be violent or prone to criminal behavior. Yet, as many as 40% of police calls are for incidents related to mental health. When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, not a crime, their family, neighbors or friends often call 911 for help.

These are special challenges to police officers. Police are often called upon to interact with individuals who are showing behaviors that are a danger to themselves or the public. Yet the person in crisis is often unable to respond appropriately to officer instructions.

The New London Human Services Department has had success in building community response models that relieve some of the pressure on our police officers and Fire Department emergency responders. We are well positioned to integrate and expand New London’s respected crisis intervention team, mobile mental health outreach team, and successful Navigator program, which were created to battle the opioid crisis and to respond to incidents involving people in mental health crisis.

The Navigator program can be expanded, modified and applied to the myriad other situations involving mental health and other social crises that should not primarily require a police response. The successful CARES (Coordinated Access, Resources, Engagement and Support) model that has been implemented in New London for those suffering from opioid use disorder can be replicated as an intervention for other individuals who have frequent contact with law enforcement due to mental health issues or diminished mental capacity.

The CARES model is administered by the Alliance for Living in partnership with Ledge Light Health District, the City of New London, and many community providers. Experience has shown that, following police intervention, a simple referral to treatment is often inadequate. Individuals may have multiple (often interconnected) challenges that are not effectively addressed by any one treatment modality. One of the most important aspects of the CARES model is that the navigators, who themselves have experienced substance use disorder, develop a trusting, caring and consistent relationship with the individuals they serve, helping them get the treatment they need. This trust and engagement is essential.

An expanded intervention program in other police matters should be modeled after the Navigator program to develop relationships of trust with individuals identified by law enforcement. A navigator would develop a personalized treatment plan that uses a person’s existing support system with additional focus on contributing factors, such as inadequate health care and/or housing. Navigators will collaborate with existing Mobile Crisis services and other community-based programs and providers.

City funding would be required. While the navigators would be hired and supervised by a non-profit agency, the city’s Department of Human Services budget would need to be increased, including to help coordinate the program with police and state and community providers.

The work of the Public Safety Policy Review Committee provides the framework upon which to build a new public safety response system and improve both our police response and the quality of life for everyone in our city.

Jeanne Milstein is the New London director of Human Services.

 

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