The Millcreek Township Police Department responds to a “significant number” of mental health incidents and other crises each year, Police Chief Scott Heidt said.
The department’s 66 officers also regularly respond to calls that may affect their own mental health.
“We’re exposed to a lot of things the average person wouldn’t believe,” Deputy Chief Carter Mook said.
Millcreek Police will soon employ additional help to respond to crisis calls and provide advice to its officers thanks to the recent receipt of a state grant.
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The nearly $250,000 grant through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will allow the department to employ a full-time in-house crisis clinician to respond to mental health incidents and follow up on cases . It will also provide training for members of the department to become peer counselors for other agents.
The grant will cover the crisis clinician’s salary and benefits, as well as equipment and supplies, over two years, according to Mook.
The crisis clinician will join Millcreek Police in partnership with UPMC Western Behavioral Health in Safe Harbor. Millcreek Police have selected the person Safe Harbor has hired and will train, Mook said.
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Facing a crisis
Crisis Services has responded to 420 calls in which an Erie County law enforcement agency requested assistance at the scene so far this year, through November, according to data provided by Stacey Buettner, Crisis Services Program Director for UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Port.
Having a trained clinician working with Millcreek Police will provide an opportunity to meet someone in crisis as soon as possible, Buettner said. The clinician can help defuse a situation, identify concerns, offer support and connect the individual to appropriate services, she said.
Crisis services already work closely with law enforcement in more intense crisis situations, where a person is at higher risk, Mandy Fauble, director of clinical care services for UPMC Western Behavioral Health told Safe Harbour. Having someone working with Millcreek Police will help divert people from the justice system and direct them to the help they really need, she said.
Mook said there are a number of ‘regular users of our services’ who are not going through a mental health crisis to the point where they need to be taken into custody and admitted to hospital for an assessment. their mental health, but are “not on track.” By having a dedicated crisis clinician, the department can direct these people to the help they need, he said.
“Arrest is not the right answer,” Mook said.
The clinician will work out of the Millcreek Township Police Department and have a set schedule, Heidt said. He said the person will occasionally go with officers on incidents, depending on the situation, while there might be times when an officer on the scene calls the worker to a location.
The clinician may also be asked to complete a follow-up visit with someone the police meet who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, Heidt said.
“We hope the person will be able to establish a rapport with the customer,” he said.
Heidt said he would like to see the program expand beyond mental health issues to include helping those with other challenges, including substance abuse.
“If we can help one person, that’s what we’re looking to do,” he said.
Millcreek Township Supervisor Kim Clear, who liaises with the township police department, credited the efforts of Heidt, Mook and others to secure the grant and add the program to the department.
“I think this reaffirms our commitment to meeting all of our community’s needs, including those with mental health issues,” Clear said.
Under the peer counseling component of the grant program, three of the township’s police officers will be trained to become peer support officers, Mook said. These officers will be available to any township officer who needs to speak to someone about any issues they may be having, he said.
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Millcreek Police are adding a crisis clinician as the Erie Police Bureau continues to advance recovery plans for a specialist unit to respond to mental health incidents and other crises.
Police Chief Dan Spizarny said last week he hoped the crisis unit would be up and running by May 1, once eight new officers are sworn in later this month.
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The Municipal Police had a crisis unit that responded to a variety of crisis calls, but it was disbanded in 2005 due to budget issues. Late last year, Spizarny asked the Erie City Council for a portion of the city’s U.S. bailout funding to be used to hire additional officers to resurrect the Crisis Unit and a Juvenile Crime Unit. , which was also disbanded in 2005.
Spizarny said officers had been selected for the juvenile crime unit and would begin work in January.
Contact Tim Hahn at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.
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