The Millcreek Township Police Department responds to a “significant number” of mental health and other crisis incidents each year, Police Chief Scott Heidt said.
The department’s 66 officers also regularly respond to calls that may affect their mental health.
“We’re exposed to a lot of things that the average person wouldn’t believe,” Deputy Chief Carter Mook said.
Millcreek police will soon use additional help responding to crisis calls and providing counseling to its officers through 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 enable the department to hire a full-time, in-house crisis clinic to respond to mental health incidents and follow up on cases. It will also provide training for members of the department to be peer counselors for other officers.
The grant will cover the crisis clinic’s salary and benefits, as well as equipment and supplies, for two years, according to Mook.
The crisis physician will join Millcreek police in partnership with UPMC Western Behavioral Health in Safe Harbor. Millcreek police selected the person, who Safe Harbor hired and will train, Mook said.
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Addressing a crisis
Crisis services have responded to 420 calls in which an Erie County law enforcement agency requested assistance at a scene so far this year, through November, according to data provided by Stacey Buettner, services program director. of crises for UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe. But you.
Having a trained clinician working with Millcreek police will provide the opportunity to meet with an individual experiencing a crisis as quickly as possible, Buettner said. The clinician can help de-escalate a situation, identify concerns, offer support and connect the individual to appropriate services, she said.
Crisis services already work very closely with law enforcement in more intense crisis situations, where someone is most at risk, said Mandy Fauble, director of clinical care services for UPMC Western Behavioral Health in Safe Harbor. Having someone working with Millcreek police will help steer people away from the legal system and direct them to the help they really need, she said.
Mook said they are a number of “regular users of our services” who are not experiencing a mental health crisis to the point where they need to be taken into custody and admitted to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, but “not are on the right track.” By having a dedicated crisis clinic, the department can direct those people to the help they need, he said.
“Arrest is not the right answer,” Mook said.
The medical examiner will work out of the Millcreek Township Police Department and have a set schedule, Heidt said. He said the person will go with officers to incidents on occasion, depending on the situation, while there may be times when an officer on the scene calls the worker to a location.
The clinician may also be asked to make a follow-up visit with a person the police encounter who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, Heidt said.
“We hope the person will be able to build 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 Town Supervisor Kim Clear, who is the liaison to the town’s police department, praised the efforts of Heidt, Mook and others in securing the grant and adding the program to the department.
“I think it reaffirms our commitment to addressing all needs in our community, including those with mental health challenges,” Clear said.
Under the peer counseling component of the grant program, three of the borough’s police officers will be trained to be peer support officers, Mook said. Those officers will be available to any city officer who needs to talk to someone about issues they may be experiencing, he said.
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Millcreek police are adding a crisis clinic as the Erie Police Bureau continues to advance plans to reestablish a specialized unit to respond to mental health and other crisis incidents.
Police Chief Dan Spizarny said last week that he hopes to have the Crisis Unit up and running by May 1, after eight new officers are sworn in later this month.
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The city police once had a Crisis Unit that responded to a variety of crisis calls, but it was disbanded in 2005 due to budget problems. Spizarny late last year asked the Erie City Council for a portion of the city’s American Rescue Plan funding to be used to hire additional officers to revive the Crisis Unit and a Juvenile Crime Unit, which which also disbanded in 2005.
Spizarny said officers have been selected for the Juvenile Crime Unit and will begin work in January.
Contact Tim Hahn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.
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