Three small police departments South of Boston — in Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham — are joining forces with a social services agency to avoid arresting people with mental health or substance abuse problems and to get them help instead.
The goal is to redirect individuals committing nonviolent offenses from the criminal justice system to “more appropriate community-based behavioral health services,” according to a statement from the towns.
The “Co-response Jail Diversion Program” is funded through a grant from the state Department of Health and pairs police officers with specially trained clinicians from an organization called Advocates. The clinicians provide immediate support to people facing mental health crises and trauma, as well as follow-up resources, the statement said.
“While responding to calls, it’s very common for our officers to come into contact with individuals experiencing mental health crises or substance use disorders in desperate need of behavioral health services,” said Norfolk Police Chief Chuck Stone. “With the assistance of crisis clinicians, our departments can work to ensure that these individuals get the proper assistance and help they need instead of being directed to the criminal justice system.”
Wrentham Police Chief William McGrath said his officers “frequently respond to and de-escalate dangerous, volatile calls involving people with mental health, substance abuse, and other conditions. Once a scene is [successfully] de-escalated and deemed safe by police officers, trained clinicians can then be allowed to enter and offer their invaluable services.”
“Without clinicians, police are on their own to facilitate follow-up assistance to people in need and, too often, connection is never made,” he said.
The three towns will share a clinician, who will spend one to two times a week in each town but also be available other times.
Advocates, which is based in Framingham, started its first jail diversion program in 2003 with the Framingham Police Department and has expanded to departments across the state, including Marlborough, Watertown, Natick, Holliston, Hopkinton, Sherborn, Hudson, Sudbury, Franklin, Medway, Westborough, Southborough, Northborough, Lowell, Mansfield, Stow and Harvard, Sharon, Westwood, Marshfield, Duxbury, Norwell, Belmont, and Shrewsbury.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.