Erving PD rallying nearby towns to share mental health clinician

  • Gill Selectboard members Greg Snedeker and Randy Crochier during an August meeting. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Leverett Police Chief Scott Minckler, pictured outside the Wendell Police Station. Minckler says, “having a clinician available for some mental health calls would be a huge asset to us.” STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2022 2:49:39 PM
Modified: 2/8/2022 2:47:57 PM

ERVING — The Erving Police Department is fielding interest from several surrounding departments for potential collaboration under the Massachusetts Jail/Arrest Diversion Grant Program, through which they would share a co-response mental health clinician funded by a $90,000 grant.

Erving has approached Gill, Bernardston, Northfield, Wendell and Leverett about committing to the process, all of whom have expressed interest, according to Gill Police Chief Chris Redmond. The mental health clinician would act as a first responder that is paired with a police officer in scenarios involving mental health crises and substance abuse situations. Police from these towns have framed the prospect as not only a means of better equipping often understaffed departments, but also as a matter of adding versatility to their skill set.

Gill’s Selectboard voiced enthusiasm for the idea during a meeting this week, citing a growing need for mental health services.

“I think there’s a whole lot of mental health issues that are driven underground,” Selectboard Chair Greg Snedeker said. “We’re just not hearing about them as much because it’s not the first priority right now.”

“Nobody was talking and the world was shut down, basically, so (people coping with mental illness) weren’t getting the support they needed of any type and a lot of folks just spiraled,” board member Randy Crochier added.

Police chiefs from involved towns similarly expressed concern over the universal mental health crisis. They collectively acknowledged the need for mental health professionals in situations where police are not the most appropriate responders.

“Having a clinician available for some mental health calls would be a huge asset to us,” said Leverett Police Chief Scott Minckler, whose department provides policing services to Wendell through an inter-municipal agreement.

“There are some times when we’re not the perfect solution,” Bernardston Police Chief James Palmeri said. “We shouldn’t be doing this by ourselves, and I don’t think clinicians should be doing this by themselves either.”

Erving Police Chief Robert Holst said having the mental health clinician as a “shared resource” between departments allows towns an opportunity to engage with a program that they haven’t previously tried. Redmond explained that even with a $90,000 grant that would fully fund the clinician’s position, the area’s small-town police departments wouldn’t have the personnel to constantly pair with a clinician in a situation where each department has its own.

“If you have a full-time mental health clinician, you’re going to need a full-time officer to commit from your team,” he said.

The model the towns are looking to engage with follows the lead of one that Greenfield, Montague and Deerfield have collaborated with Clinical & Support Options (CSO) on since May 2021. Greenfield Deputy Police Chief William Gordon said the program has been remarkably successful thus far.

“I just heard the success of what’s been happening with the mental health clinician and then some,” Bernardston Chief Palmeri said. “We’ve just heard success stories, so we just said, ‘Why not?’”

Just on Thursday, Gordon said, the clinician shared between Greenfield, Montague and Deerfield helped de-escalate a situation in which somebody was threatening to jump off a bridge in Erving.

“It’s been one of the best programs we’ve had,” he said.

Gordon reported that involvement of a mental health clinician has resulted in a drop in arrests and “anywhere from a 50 to 75% drop in diversions to the emergency room.”

“There’s a feeling from people that we put a lot of people in jail and we don’t want to do that,” he said.

Thus far, towns approached by Erving have responded supportively. Redmond and Minckler each said their towns’ police departments are on board and their Selectboards will be sending Erving a letter of commitment. Palmeri said while the idea hasn’t yet been brought to the Bernardston Selectboard for approval, he sent Erving a letter on behalf of his department and “100%” expects the Selectboard to be agreeable.

“We just want to bring something to our region that we can all benefit from,” Redmond said.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261.

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