Police Behavioral Health Unit discussed

by Terry Rogers

Councilman Jason James presented a request to Milford City Council to conduct a feasibility study to see what would be involved in adding a Behavioral Health Unit to the Milford Police Department. This unit would respond to calls that involved mental health or substance abuse.

“This unit would be made up of a mental health and a drug addiction segment,” Councilman James said. “When there is a 911 call that is primarily related to mental health or substance abuse, the behavioral health unit would be the first responder. If necessary, a police officer would also be dispatched with the unit depending on the nature of the call. That would allow police officers to focus on other things. There are a lot of cities around us doing the same thing and there is actually federal and state grant money that could fund this. We would start off with grants and then look at permanent, long-term funding.”

Councilman Andy Fulton asked if Milford Police Department had an intervention plan for substance abuse if that was the main point of a call. Chief Kenneth Brown stated that the department currently works with Behavioral Health and with Connections in Harrington.

“We will even give someone a ride to Harrington if that is what they need,” Chief Brown said. “If they don’t want to go there, we do provide them with as much information as we can, whether we give it to them or to a friend or family member who may be with them. I am in full support of a feasibility study to see how we could benefit from something like this. I’ve been talking to other departments who have been doing this for a short time. I don’t know yet if there is enough information out there to see how it would work, but I am all for it and look forward to working with a committee on this project.”

Because the discussion was only about a feasibility study, no motion was made at the Council meeting. Solicitor David Rutt explained that if the decision was made to establish a Behavioral Health Unit, the funding and costs would need to be voted upon by Council.

In other cities around the country, police departments have instituted Behavioral Health Units to address mental health and substance abuse calls. In most of these cities, when a call comes in that could be related to someone who is mentally ill or abusing drugs, a patrol officer is paired with a mental health professional. This allows them to work proactively to help those who are mentally ill and who are identified as having multiple, high-risk interactions with police.

“Right now, I am not sure how this would work in Milford,” Chief Brown said. “These are things we would need to work out as we conduct the feasibility study.”

No timeline was presented for how long the feasibility study would take.

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