Vermont State Police, Department of Mental Health to improve responses to people in mental health crisis
The Vermont Department of Mental Health and Vermont State Police have agreed, consistent with Act 79 that was recently passed by the legislature, their joint efforts to work together to improve responses to persons in mental health crisis. That announcement came today from Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn and Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood.
“The Department of Mental Health has been reaching out to law enforcement for many months to partner with state and local police on how best to respond to reports involving people in mental health crisis,” said Flynn. “We have agreed we need to step up the pace.”
The first step will be to ensure direct communication between law enforcement and the local mental health agency whenever a call comes to the police about someone who appears to be in a mental health crisis. Effective within 48 hours all designated mental health agencies and district Vermont State Police barracks will have contact persons on hand to speed communication. Whenever either party learns of an event that may call for police and mental health intervention, the other will be called immediately, and the parties will stay in touch until the situation is resolved. Whenever possible, a mental health professional will join the police at the scene. Within three weeks, joint protocols will be in place to guide interactions in these situations.
“Plans are underway across the state for better coordination between local and state police and mental health agencies,” said Flood. “Agencies are hiring new staff for what we call “mobile crisis response.” They will need to be trained, but in the meantime, there is more we can do.”
The Mobile Crisis Teams will improve officers’ abilities to effectively, respectfully and safely interact with persons with mental illness and subsequently divert more of them away from the criminal justice system and to mental health services. This approach will avoid incarceration in favor of a more appropriate, safe placement and optimize the utilization of available resources.
Both agencies have been working together on coordination prior to the legislative session, and mental health legislation passed earlier this year calls for improved communication and collaboration. Situations like the recent death in Thetford illustrate the need for improved coordination and mobile outreach. Unfortunately over past years, reduced funding eroded the ability of mental health agencies to provide mobile crisis. Those services are now being re-developed with new funding from the Legislature.
“Our goal is to make sure mental health professionals are directly involved, working with the police, to provide additional and different services to avoid harm to people in crisis,” Flood said.
State Police Director Col. Thomas L’Esperance agreed, adding, “The safety of the public is our ultimate mission and it is important that we employ all available resources to aid in the execution of that mission.”
Commissioner Flynn said the Department of Public Safety embraces the concept of working closely with mental health professionals and will do everything possible to ensure good communication right away, and fully developed working agreements as soon as new staff are hired.