NJ to pair mental health workers with police on 911 calls

A program pairing mental health workers with police responding to 911 calls for people in crisis in New Jersey will expand statewide after a pilot program showed it helped prevent some people from turning violent and improved their recovery, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced.

Calling it a “game-changer,” Murphy said the program, known as ARRIVE Together, would become the first first such statewide collaboration between law enforcement and mental health professionals in the nation.

About half of all calls involving someone having a mental health crisis result in a use of force by police, according to state data. Increasingly, law enforcement leaders in New Jersey and around the country are looking to alternative approaches.

Dubbed “Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation,” the program launched in November 2021 on a small scale, pairing cops trained in crisis intervention with mental health screeners in an unmarked car to arrive together at 911 calls involving mental health issues.

Matthew Platkin, the state attorney general, said pilot programs in Cumberland and Union counties had so far helped 300 people who were in crisis.

The results were stark, the attorney general said.

“These are the calls that are the toughest, the most sensitive, the most likely to result in use of force,” Platkin said.

“We’ve helped hundreds of people. No injuries, no arrests, effectively no use of force – and better and more efficient mental health care,” he said.

Using $2 million from the current budget, Murphy on Wednesday announced an expansion to more than two dozen towns across 10 counties, starting in May. The expansion will include departments in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean and Union counties. (See a full list here.)

During an announcement at St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy, the governor said he wanted eventually to bring the program to all 21 counties.

“The budget I’m going to send to the Legislature will propose $10 million in funding,” Murphy said. “That’s a fivefold increase so we can expand ARRIVE Together to every community in the great state of New Jersey.”

Amid a national conversation over police reform, law enforcement agencies around the U.S. have been testing the waters of formal partnerships similar to the one New Jersey is trying. Advocates for the approach say it lowers the temperature in heated interactions between police and a person who might be frightened by a phalanx of uniformed cops and flashing lights.

“This is common sense, but it is also radical and system-changing work,” said Sarah Adelman, commissioner of the state Department of Human Services, which oversees mental health screeners partners with police.

Col. Patrick Callahan, the superintendent of the State Police, said the pilot programs involving troopers had helped strengthen bonds between the division and the communities it serves. Pairing troopers with mental health workers and losing the trappings of a frenzied emergency response helps “humanize the badge,” Callahan said.

“People look at us and say, ‘Phew, they’re here,’” Callahan said.

“Not, ‘Ugh, they’re here.’”

From NJ.com