A few years ago, Milford Police Department established a Behavioral Health Unit, an idea suggested by Councilman Jason James. According to statistics provided by Chief Cecilia Ashe at a recent board meeting, through April 2023, there have been 72 diversions from arrest, 98 diversions from the ER and 893 follow-ups by the unit.
“Some of the biggest benefits to this unit is that it allows individuals to be diverted from the criminal justice system when relevant which lessens the burden on the criminal justice system,” Jenna Haines, Behavioral Health Director/Embedded Clinician, said. “It also reduces strain on emergency rooms by connecting individuals with appropriate level of care and lessens recidivism by linking individuals with needed behavioral health treatment.”
Currently, Milford’s unit has one full-time clinician, Haines, as well as two part-time subcontracted clinicians, Greg Bisset and Danielle Blackwell. The clinicians ride along in the car with police officers and respond to calls for service, providing necessary resources and/or interventions. They also do a brief case management and follow-up with individuals throughout the treatment continuum. Officers also refer individuals to clinicians if they were not present at the call.
In addition to reducing arrests and emergency room visits, the Milford Behavioral Unit is being used as a model for other departments. Haines explained that is because the Milford unit is somewhat unique.
“Having a clinician ride with police allows them to engage with an individual as the situation unfolds in order to complete an appropriate evaluation,” Haines said. “It also allows people to be met where they are and, even if something is not a behavioral health call, there is often a behavioral health component to calls, so having a clinician ride with the police allows more individuals to be engaged with resources. Overall, the goal lessens time that police spend on these repeat calls and lessens the stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse disorder.”
The unit is not without its challenges, however, Haines said.
“There is a lack of resources in Southern Delaware, including minimal transportation options, long waiting time for affordable housing and difficulty finding treatment for uninsured individuals,” Haines said. “We also face overall challenges due to the increase in the opioid crisis.”
Chief Ashe and Haines both hope that the department can expand the unit in the future.
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