Mayor Kim Driscoll and Police Chief Paul Tucker announced Wednesday that the Salem Police Department has been awarded a $135,000 three-year grant from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.
The funds will be used to develop and implement an innovative Jail Diversion Program.
The new program aims to increase the department’s ability to divert individuals with mental illness, substance abuse, and other behavioral issues away from the criminal justice system and towards the appropriate psychiatric, social, and community-based services. Through collaboration with outside partners, the department will further build the skills of its officers to better serve these at-risk individuals.
Eilot Community Human Services will provide, at no charge, a 40-hour training program for as many as one-quarter of department officers, with a priority focus on those officers who most frequently interact with individuals with disabilities. These include the Community Impact Unit, patrol supervisors, and dispatchers.
In addition, Lahey Health Behavioral Services will provide a behavioral health clinician to coordinate with these officers on diversion strategies and to follow up with identified at-riskindividuals, to ensure they receive the appropriate services.
The program also calls for the development of permanent police policies for supporting diversion when called for, as well as enhanced coordination with the Salem Veterans Agent, to better identify and track veterans in the City who have mental health concerns or disorders. It will additionally establish a collaboration between the police department’s Teen Resource Center and Juvenile Probation and the Plummer Home for Boys to better provide clinical services to at-risk juveniles with mental health concerns and disorders.
The department estimates the diversion program will serve around 700 individuals per year and divert approximately half of those at-risk individuals from arrest or hospitalization and towards appropriate health services in the community.
From 2011 to 2012 the Salem Police Department saw their highest increases in calls for service in suicide attempts (33% increase), mental health medical calls (29%), and mental health commitment calls (26%). These figures represent the highest frequency of psychiatric calls on record for the department and prompted Chief Tucker, along with Sergeants Dennis King and Harry Rocheville of the CIU, to prioritize the creation of a more effective diversion program.
“This program is a truly positive step forward for Salem,” said Mayor Driscoll. “Getting appropriate mental health services to those most in need of them in our community, especially veterans and juveniles, is more than just good public safety and human service policy. It will also serve to save money, as much as nearly $1.1 million in avoided ambulance services and hospital and court costs, over the three years of the grant. Congratulations to Chief Tucker and all the officers who worked so hard to secure this competitive grant award.”
“I want to thank DMH for recognizing the seriousness of this issue and awarding us the resources to better address it through this new and innovative program,” said Chief Tucker. “Not only will this be to the benefit of the nearly 700 individuals with mental health needs with whom our officers interact, it will also help the officers themselves. More than half of our use-of-force incidents involve a person suffering from a mental illness. When we reduce the frequency of those incidents we reduce the potentiality for all involved to come to harm.”
“Eliot is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with the Salem Police Department in diverting people with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system and into services,” said Aaron Katz, Director of Mental Health Services for Eliot Community Human Services. “The population we serve in Salem has truly benefited from the respect and support provided by the Salem Police Department.”
“We’re all very excited and encouraged about this collaboration with the Salem Police Department to prevent needless arrests and to direct people to the psychiatric supports and resources that they need,” said Colleen Babson, Director of Emergency Services Salem for Lahey Health Behavioral Services.