Poughkeepsie police add mental health worker

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POUGHKEEPSIE  In a joint venture with Mental Health America of Dutchess County, a behavioral health specialist will be partnering with a police officer during shifts to broaden response services in the city.  This pilot program comes at a time when Sarah Salem, chair of the common council, has become a vocal proponent of defunding the police.

City of Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison and Andrew O’Grady, chief executive officer of Mental Health America, said this partnership will bring a significant benefit to the community. “We recognize that our police officers respond to more than just reports of criminal activity,” said Rolison. “They are first responders who have to answer all sorts of calls, and many of them involve mental-health issues.”

The Mayor praised City Administrator Marc Nelson for bringing the idea forward“This partnership with Mental Health America of Dutchess County will improve outcomes and provide a gateway to non-police services and help where it is needed, in real time,” said Nelson. “The program will utilize non-personally identifiable data to actually measure community benefit. The whole idea is to address root problems in order to avoid a cycle of failure that often occurs when people are arrested and incarcerated.”

Councilmember Matthew McNamara represents the city’s 8th ward and is thrilled about the pilot program.  “As usual our PD is an innovative and service-oriented agency. From first in the region to implement Procedural Justice and now a training agency for Procedural Justice, to their daily work strengthening police-community relations, the MHA partnership is likely to become a model for others.”

“We are excited to take this bold step with the City of Poughkeepsie,” said O’Grady. “We believe such alliances are going to grow, as communities look for more comprehensive approaches to how police officers handle cases involving mental illness and drug addiction.”

This partnership augments another one the city created with Dutchess County. Launched in October 2017, the Behavioral Evaluation & Assistance Team (BEAT) is a joint venture between City Police and the Dutchess County’s Department of Behavioral & Community Health. As a result, the city has significantly increased the number of personal interactions with individuals and have rendered more assistance.

“Our department continues to embrace ways to serve the public, to provide safety but also to provide assistance for those who need it,” said Police Chief Tom Pape. Kevin Van Wagner, President of the PBA, said the idea has merit.  “Our department has always been at the forefront of policing.  In times when elected officials are threatening budget cuts to law enforcement, the Poughkeepsie Police Department is taking a proactive approach to serving the city,” adding “We look forward to the help.”

An Intensive Case Manager from Mental Health America will work under the Police Department’s Juvenile Division and will work closely with the BEAT team as well as the Police Department’s Juvenile Division Youth Worker to meet the needs of children and their parents who may be experiencing mental-health-related illnesses. MHA’s social worker also will be able to provide or offer referrals for follow-up services.

Mayor Rolison said he plans to use existing police funds to launch the program at the end of this month and will include more monies for it in his 2021 budget proposal to the Common Council.