Police and Mental Health Specialists "Arrive Together" in Pilot Program
Leaders from the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, Clifton, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and community members gathered in the Clifton High School auditorium on January 31st to discuss the rollout of the Arrive Together pilot program in Clifton. The Attorney General’s office and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s office have selected Clifton to be the pilot program for Passaic County. The goal of the Office of the Attorney General is to eventually have an Arrive Together team cover every resident of New Jersey.
Arrive Together Program Overview
The “ARRIVE (Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation) TOGETHER” program is a collaborative effort between law enforcement and mental health professionals to provide a more comprehensive response to mental health calls for service. The program began in late 2021 with a pilot in Cumberland County and has since expanded to all 21 counties in New Jersey. For more on the program please see HERE.
Across New Jersey, two out of every three uses of force by law enforcement involve a civilian suffering from mental illness or who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Over half of all fatal police encounters in New Jersey occur in similar circumstances. Police estimate that nearly a quarter of all people killed by police officers in America were suffering from a known mental illness. The data also shows that people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be injured during police encounters. Because of the prevalence of mental health encounters with law enforcement and the aggravating role that race may play in some of them, experts recognize a need for new strategies. Reducing encounters between law enforcement and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis may represent one clear strategy for reducing fatal police shootings and the use of force in the United States. For more on this, please see the Brookings Report on Arrive Together HERE.
The presentation began with a video showing the history of the Arrive Together program (see HERE), followed by recorded remarks by Governor Murphy, who said that this is one of the initiatives that he is most proud of in his tenure as Governor and pledging $10 million dollars to assist in rolling it out statewide. He expressed his support for the police who are asked to serve as mental health providers and his commitment to ensuring that they have the support and training they need. He called the program “shockingly inexpensive” for its impact in reducing harm and growing trust between the community and police.
The Speakers Panel
The panel was composed of speakers from the Passaic County Prosecutor’s office, led by Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes, with Chief Christopher Drelich, Deputy Chief Marco Aliano, and Senior Assistant Prosecutor from the Bias Crime Unit Bulent G. Can. They were joined by members of the Clifton Police Department, led by Chief Thomas Rinaldi, Lt. Robert Anderson, and Sergeant Gary Giardina. Speakers from St. Joseph’s Healthcare system were led by St. Joseph’s Executive Director for Behavioral Services Tina Miles, with Kenneth M. Morris, Jr., Vice President of External Affairs. Narine Kaprelian, Manager of Psychiatric Emergency Services, and Danielle Granados, Manager of the Screening Center, will be the first mental health professionals involved in the Clifton pilot program.
The program is intended as an addition, not a replacement, of the programs that CPD has been rolling out. There is currently a CIT program provided through the Mental Health Association where police officers can attend a five-day, 40-hour intensive training that emphasizes mental health knowledge, crisis resolution skills, and access to community-based services. 60 of Clifton’s officers have already attended this training. The officers also have access to St. Joseph’s Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services, where they can call and have a clinician sent out to assist if needed. This support is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Proposed Pilot Program
The proposed program will be a co-response one. Instead of officers coming to the scene and then having to contact a clinician and wait for one to arrive from St. Joseph’s, a clinician and a police officer will be in an unmarked police car, so they can “arrive together” quickly in an emergency. They will be “second responders,” much like EMS. Either the dispatcher or an officer on the scene will assess whether they are needed and will make the necessary call. Currently, the program will be active on Mondays from noon to 8 pm, with a view to extend the hours available as more data shows where the need is. If officers determine that a situation could benefit from the Arrive Together program at other hours, they will leave a note, and the team will follow up.
Benefits of the Program
The speakers discussed that connecting law enforcement officers with mental health clinicians addresses at least four main goals.
First, having a mental health specialist address behavioral health concerns will lead to safer outcomes. Data gathered shows that there was no use of force in 97% of the calls where a mental health specialist was present.
Second, under a co-response model that pairs officers with clinicians, clinicians are on the scene from the beginning, saving the officer wait time and preventing situations from escalating.
Third, fewer individuals will end up being taken unnecessarily to the hospital. According to the N.J. Department of Human Services, only about a third of individuals in crisis who are transported to the emergency room actually required hospitalization. Clinicians have the training and experience to determine when someone should be evaluated for hospitalization and when an individual could instead benefit from referrals to services in the community.
Finally, Arrive Together teams help improve trust between law enforcement and the community.
Many Clifton community members and leaders were present to ask questions about the program, including City Manager Villano. Councilwoman Sadrakula asked who pays for the CIT training and the Arrive Together program. CIT training is free for our officers and St. Joseph’s has applied for a grant from the state to cover two additional clinicians. The program is expected to rollout in the next few weeks.
Kim Castellano of Power of One stated that the program makes her very happy, but said that Clifton needs more resources to address the needs in the community. Having clinicians and police refer clients to services within the community is very important but those resources are currently not able to meet the level of demand. Valdes answered that there is an effort underway to create a central location for information on local resources so that there can be better awareness and use of the existing resources in the community.
The Arrive Together program is very data-driven and as it becomes clear what is needed, organizers can look to crafting better solutions. Lieutenant Anderson stated that the police make referrals all day - their training is to spot a problem and help facilitate a resolution. He spoke of an incident where a person was extremely upset because their cell phone had broken, and the officer took the person to help get it fixed. Sometimes the solution to someone’s very bad day can be a simple one.
Clifton Health Department Officer John Biegel offered the help of his Social Services team which was created last year and has been providing resources through the Clifton Warming Center. For more on the services the Health Department has been providing please see our article HERE.
A local community member asked how the Arrive Together team would help with resources on addiction. Sergeant Gary Giardina spoke of the importance of community policing and getting to know people and making plans for their ongoing support. He said that Arrive Together is really intended for people who are in acute crisis and not for long-term issues like addiction. For more on community policing in Clifton, please see our article HERE.
A police officer from Glen Rock, attending to learn more about the Arrive Together program, asked the panel what they wanted police officers to know to help de-escalate while waiting for the Arrive Together team. Miles said that it is important to approach the person calmly, validate and listen, and keep your hands visible. Ask questions to see what is underneath their anger. Granados added that this work takes patience. Giving people the space to feel heard, and even the time to be silent, is very helpful in allowing them to relax. Karprelian added that the key word is dignity - to remember that the person is a human being.
The Arrive Together program is a promising new approach to mental health calls for service. By collaborating with mental health professionals, law enforcement can provide a more comprehensive and effective response to these calls. The program can also help to reduce the number of police calls for service and allow people with mental illness to thrive in the community. The Arrive Together program will not replace the resources Clifton already has, but will augment them.