Metro

Mayor wants 4 more clinicians to help keep mentally ill out of jail

Said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh: “A lot of times when cops confront people there’s mental health or substance abuse issues, and this can help defuse the situation.”

Globe Staff/File 2015

Said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh: “A lot of times when cops confront people there’s mental health or substance abuse issues, and this can help defuse the situation.”

Four additional mental health clinicians would work with Boston police under a new version of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s budget, tripling the size of a unit geared toward diverting emotionally disturbed people from jail and toward treatment or job training.

In the fiscal year 2018 budget resubmission he plans to file Monday, Walsh will call for $234,228 to fund the four new positions, city officials said.

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The team’s mission involves working with police officers who report people with signs of mental illness. The clinicians then work to connect those people with mental health resources. With two clinicians working between August 2011 and the end of 2016, more than 500 people were linked with mental health assistance rather than arrested, Walsh aides said.

“A lot of times when cops confront people there’s mental health or substance abuse issues, and this can help defuse the situation,” Walsh said Friday.

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“What this will do is hopefully get some of these people who are perceived criminals but actually need help with other things and get them the help they need and into other things. It’s money well spent,” he said.

The Boston Emergency Services Team (BEST), staffed by two master’s-level clinicians, currently works with officers from five districts: B-2 in Roxbury, B-3 in Mattapan and Dorchester, D-4 in the South End and Fenway, C-6 in South Boston, and C-11 in Dorchester.

The team performs holding-cell evaluations and provides follow-up services between calls, officials said.

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“Having clinicians work alongside the Boston Police Department with officers has been an incredible and extraordinary benefit for those who are having a mental-health crisis, who need a mental-health intervention rather than a criminal intervention,” said at-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George.

The two current positions are funded through separate grants, both of which are due to expire next year, officials said.

Essaibi George said a council hearing with police officials revealed the effectiveness of the team and provided encouragement to build the funding into the city’s operating budget.

“It was just widespread acknowledgement that this was something we need to be doing as part of our general practice,” she said.

Working out of Boston Medical Center, the two clinicians work 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays. While the team now in place is available around the clock for emergencies, the beefed-up staff would enable the team to work with police stations across the rest of the city and possibly cover weekends, City Hall officials said.

“Mental health issues are really at the core of such trauma in the city,” Essaibi George said, adding that preventing incarceration for mentally ill people could realize a cost savings for the city.

“Often our police officers are left feeling that their only way is to arrest their way out. And with this additional support, we can certainly better serve the residents and we can treat the root cause of the problem, and in the end it is less expensive for the city,” she said.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports.
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