$650,000 grant will allow mental health professionals to accompany law enforcement on 911 calls

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HAVERFORD — U.S. Representative Mary Gay Scanlon joined local police chiefs, County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Delaware County Council members and other officials on Monday to announce a $650,000 grant to fund a new pilot program for ‘mobile crisis teams’ which will help police respond to situations where a person may be suffering from a mental health emergency.

“We know from statistics that about one in four people who are in the criminal justice system have mental health issues because we don’t adequately fund mental health supports outside of the criminal justice system, c So it’s a way of trying to start restoring that balance instead of forcing all of our issues on our schools or our police forces,” Scanlon said during a Monday fund meeting inside of the municipal building of the township of Haverford.

The grant, one of 10 projects in the district that Scanlon was able to secure through the federal appropriations process, will pay for training at the 911 Center and for police officers, but also for mental health professionals who can respond with the law enforcement to emergency calls. where someone can suffer a crisis.

Mobile crisis teams are expected to be stationed at Delaware County Emergency Services in the Lima section of Middletown, ready to be dispatched. Once there, they will be able to direct people in crisis to a priority treatment center, rather than being detained or arrested by law enforcement. The proposed impact is two-fold: it takes law enforcement out of the equation, freeing them up to perform other tasks, while diverting people who need help to treatment and away from prison.

“When we have a resident in crisis for mental health issues, nobody wants to see that person end up in jail,” said county council vice president Elaine Paul Schaefer. “They won’t get services. It’s going to cost the county more money to put them in jail and it’s not benefiting anyone. That kind of intervention and the ability to identify a mental health crisis and situation and then help that resident get services and not end up in jail – everyone agrees (with that) , everyone around the table.

County Emergency Services Director Tim Boyce said his office will also train operators working at the 911 switchboard to understand and identify calls that may include a mental health component. This will allow them to paint a better picture for uniformed first responders, who can be joined by mental health professionals.

“Our officers are in de-escalation training, a lot of these officers, but they have to drive off and that’s what we’re trying to solve,” Boyce said. ‘We train our officers to defuse this but they don’t fix it they leave after a little while so I think that’s really the value the officer is looking for it’s the lessons learned on how to calm down the situation but (also) to provide genuine help.

Stollsteimer said it was a top priority for police in the area, noting that five police chiefs were present for Monday’s meeting, including Haverford Chief John F. Viola, who is serving as as a law enforcement representative on the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board.

“He (Viola), on behalf of the Chiefs, has been asking since I took office what we can do as a group to ensure there are more mental health services for our residents,” Stollsteimer said. . “We law enforcement come into contact every day with people who need mental health services – not the kind they’re going to get in jail, but the kind they can actually get to improve them. so that we don’t. have to get them stuck in the criminal justice system.

Viola said that despite extensive training, officers aren’t always fully equipped to deal with mental health issues and simply can’t be experts at everything. Sometimes the mere presence of a uniformed officer can actually make matters worse, he added.

“Having experts come in to help frees us up to do other work, but takes us away from this situation, which really, really calms things down, so it’s a big, big step forward and we’re very grateful,” he said. .

Viola added that there are times when an officer has to go back to a call that has erupted again hours after he left, because he can only truly calm the situation during a period when he is on the scene. He said having a professional who can stay put and get the help he needs would solve that problem.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt said his department handles the most mental health-related calls in the county and also attested to the potential good that having specialists on the scene with officers could do.

“We welcome that,” he said. “We are looking forward to developing this and we think it will be a huge bonus for law enforcement and for those who are suffering from a mental health crisis, that they can get this real help that they need in this time, at that time. time, and keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Crozer Health has reported that it will close many mental health-related services in the county next month, including the crisis center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland. Schaefer said the county is working “in overdrive” to ensure there are no gaps in services for the county’s most vulnerable populations or those who may be in crisis.

“Our social services department is literally working 24/7 at this stage to ensure that our crisis center – wherever it is in the future – is staffed and that there is a place to support those residents who are identified by criminal justice and the public. security process,” she said.

Stollsteimer said Delaware County Human Services Director Sandy Garrison has done extensive work preparing a request for proposals for mental health professionals interested in the program, which also asks vendors for ideas on strategies. of implementation. Schaefer said these will be evaluated during the program.

Chester Police Commissioner Steven Gretsky, Marple Police Chief Brandon Graeff and Folcroft Police Chief William Bair also attended the meeting.

“I think with the leadership here, it puts Delaware County at the forefront of 21st century policing,” Graeff said. “We all have a common interest and that really helps people. They’re our neighbors, they’re outside residents, they’re family members, and we all have this common interest, and I think that’s a first step.

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