BRIDGEWATER — Building on an idea from Mayor Matthew Moench, Somerset County has launched a pilot program in this township with the goal of identifying potential crisis situations and at-risk residents, then offering necessary support to discourage escalation to the point of police involvement or arrest.

County Commissioner Director Shanel Robinson said the Community Police Alliance is an example of government working for the people, and hopes it will be the sparkplug for similar approaches in neighboring towns.

Licensed social worker Dameon Stackhouse has been hired by Somerset County as the program's coordinator, and according to a release from the county, reports to their Human Services Department while also working closely with Bridgewater Police.

That field work, according to Robinson, will allow the coordinator to observe how the police department's familiarity with its residents can prompt appropriate responses to certain scenarios.

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"You understand those families that are in crisis. You get calls, maybe, more frequently than other calls in the community. And so some of these situations may not require incarceration or arrest," Robinson said.

As currently defined, the role the Community Police Alliance Coordinator plays is to follow up on referrals from police, then in turn point individuals or families to the best path to a resolution.

Robinson said Stackhouse's involvement amplifies services that are already available to residents in crisis, but which they may not know about.

He is scheduled to discuss the program, along with county and municipal officials, at next week's Board of Commissioners meeting.

"We want to definitely bring this to the forefront with the public, since it's already been approved and the person is out there in the community," Robinson said. "What better way to provide a service to the community, that we're already offering, than to put someone in position to identify and then follow up and follow through with a person or families."

Rather than involving the authorities, Robinson mentioned Bridgewater's community health and wellness center as one alternate outcome that could be arrived at through the pilot program.

"Instead of arresting them and incarcerating them and being released, and then going through the same iteration, they may need to be referred out to, say, Richard Hall or other services to get the help that they need," she said.

The stresses of life, anything from anger management to parenting problems to food insecurity, can break anyone, Robinson said. And they can be exacerbated by substance abuse, mental illness, or an environment of domestic violence.

But if the Community Police Alliance is successful, it could promote mediations that are less contentious, and with much less severe consequences for all involved.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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