Pilot program would expand teamwork between Montgomery Co. police, health officials
The pilot program could run for 90 to 180 days, with the hope of eventually becoming a permanent system.
Montgomery County, Maryland, police are working on an update to the way they handle calls for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Police Capt. Jordan Satinsky told members of two Montgomery County Council committees Monday that he’s working on a pilot program that would expand the work of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team.
He said that there have been discussions with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services about pairing up a clinician with a police officer.
Satinsky told members of the Public Safety and Health and Human Services committees that police Chief Marcus Jones has recognized the need for a more “robust response to this type of call for service.”
“We’re going to start a pilot project as soon as I get my folks online to put at least two units out in our highest areas for mental health calls in the county,” Satinsky said.
That program could run for 90 to 180 days, according to Satinsky, adding that he hopes to have these teams running 24/7, 365 days a year, in a few years, between the “top end of the county and the southern end of the county.”
According to responses submitted to the council committees, Montgomery County police has one sergeant and two officers staffing its Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT.
Satinsky said policing strategies in the past put a premium on efficiency in handling calls where mental health was an issue.
“Our job then was, go in, control, leave. Now, it’s go in, calm it down, figure it out,” Satinsky said. He mentioned that he also wanted to outfit officers handling those calls with different gear, wearing what police refer to as a “soft” uniform — something that looks less militarized and uses unmarked vehicles with muted light bars to minimize the “showiness” of a police presence.
Satinsky’s testimony followed that of Jen Corbin, director of the Anne Arundel County Crisis Response System, and Anne Arundel County police Lt. Steven Thomas. Corbin and Thomas talked about how they work together.
“I’m a social worker,” Corbin said, not a police officer.
Corbin said pairing police with clinicians on calls where mental health is an issue comes after embedding those officers with clinicians versus having mental health care workers simply ride along with police.
“My thought is that you’re always putting the officer into the crisis system, so they can continue to build on the skills that they learned through their crisis intervention training,” Corbin told committee members.
Corbin said the program has been in place in Anne Arundel County since 2014. Thomas said the approach has had an important impact on the police department and the community.
“In 2015, we trained the entire department in mental health first aid. With that, we had a 21% reduction in the use of force,” Thomas said.
“Montgomery County already has a number of these pieces in place” to improve its responses to mental health calls, and Corbin said that she believes a lot of the building blocks for a more robust system exist in the county.
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