A new pilot program is being launched in one part of South Jersey that pairs mental health professionals with law enforcement officers to respond jointly to behavioral health crises.

Acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Bruck said the ARRIVE Together program,  which stands for Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence & Escalation, is designed to address the relationship between mental health and policing.

Benefit of combining law enforcement and mental health experts

Bruck explained the program will partner a plain-clothes New Jersey state trooper with a licensed mental health clinician to respond jointly to mental health crisis situations.

"Two out of every three use of force incidents involves someone who is either experiencing a mental health crisis or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol," said Bruck. "That is shocking.”

Bruck noted in many crisis situations, police officers are asked to function as marriage counselors, drug experts and therapists, whether they have specialized training or not, but the ARRIVE Together program can change things.

How will it work?

New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said when a crisis call is received the dispatcher or public safety telecommunicators will ask a series of questions “and then the trooper and the mental health screener decide together if that’s an appropriate call to respond to.”

If it's determined that a mental health clinician is needed, Bruck said the mental health clinician won't step in until the area is secure.

Under the program, Bruck said, the state trooper will arrive "and help ensure the area is secure, then once the scene is secure they’ll send in the mental health clinician who will take the lead in the response.”

By having the mental health clinician take the lead, Bruck said the benefit is "this reduces the likelihood that it escalates into violence, and it increases the likelihood that the individual in crisis is able to get the help they need.”

New Jersey Governor Phil MurphyÕs during his daily press briefing at the the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ on May 19, 2020, regarding updates on the corona virus.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan at the daily coronavirus press briefing at the the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ on May 19, 2020. (Pool photo by Chris Pedota/NorthJersey.com-USA Today Network)

Mental health clinicians will respond to calls that involve mental health incidents, confused or disoriented persons, welfare checks, and suicide threats but not to motor vehicle incidents or what are considered dangerous incidents.

The pilot program also calls for troopers to respond to the scene in plain-clothes.

Callahan said sometimes when a law enforcement officer arrives at the scene in uniform of a mental health crisis, the uniform can inflame the situation.

“I think we need to change that perception by having a plain-clothes trooper show up and bring that temperature down," Callahan said.

Bruck believes the program will also help strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve.

What’s next?

For now, the program will be run as a pilot program out of the State Police's Cumberland County stations in Port Norris and Bridgeton. The program is scheduled to start on Dec. 2.

“We’re going to be evaluating it in partnership with the Rutgers School of Public Health, and if it works we’ll look to expand it statewide,” Bruck said.

Bruck said this kind of co-response model is being used in some states, but this is the first time it will be used in New Jersey.

He said the program is “an important step that we can take to make it safer for officers, and make it safer for civilians, and reduce the use of force, which is something that everyone wants.”

Bruck said Cumberland County was selected for the pilot program because most law enforcement services are provided by the New Jersey State Police.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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