October 5, 2022

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Cranston police, clinicians team up to address mental health calls

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The Cranston Police Department is shifting to a more proactive approach when it comes to responding to mental health-related calls.

The department launched the “Crisis Intervention Team” Wednesday, which consists of eight specially trained officers, as well as behavioral health experts from Gateway Mental Health and clinicians from the Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP).

Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist said he expects eight more officers to join the team by the end of April.

Winquist described the initiative as “a beneficial program that coordinates services between the community and specialized facilities that can offer optimum care.”

The idea to launch the specialized team came from taking a closer look at department data, according to Winquist.

The chief explained that, on average, the department responds to roughly 80,000 calls each year, and only about 2,000 of them result in arrests.

“We realized that, out of those 80,000 calls, often we were responding to the same address over and over and over again,” he said. “That was tying up significant police services.”

While the reasoning for the calls varied, Winquist said most of the repeat calls were mental-health related.

“We would go there and take a report, we would take the person down to the emergency room, sometimes if they were in mental health crisis, and a few hours later they went back home and into their community with no treatment plan, if you will,” Winquist said. “Then we were back at that house multiples times over and over again.”

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“We were really spinning our wheels,” he continued. “We weren’t really getting to the underlying issues … or treating those issues, so we wanted to do something more.”

Prior to joining the team, the chief said officers undergo 40 hours worth of additional training with clinicians from Gateway Mental Health on how to deescalate and handle mental health crises, among other similar situations, using minimal force or none at all.

Winquist emphasized that officers who aren’t part of the team also undergo mental health training, which teaches them how to recognize the basic signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and how to react when responding to calls.

But that’s not all the Crisis Intervention Team does.

Winquist said the specially-trained officers are taking a more proactive approach by following up face-to-face with the residents they previously assisted.

The follow-up services are made possible by coronavirus relief funding that was allocated to the department through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Every week, the chief said an officer, alongside a Gateway expert and CCAP clinician, circle back to residents who were previously in crisis, suffer from mental health illnesses or require substance abuse treatment to ensure they have the resources they need to improve their situations.

Winquist said since its inception last month, the Crisis Intervention Team has already made an impact.

The chief said recently, a resident who had just been discharged from the hospital was too anxious to make an intake appointment for outpatient therapy.

Thanks to the Crisis Intervention Team, that resident was provided the contact information to continue treatment and tips of how to speak about their situation, as well as overall support and encouragement to take those next steps.

In another incident, Winquist said an 8-year-old child was involved in an incident at school that resulted in him being transported to Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

The Crisis Intervention Team responded to the family’s house to offer assistance, according to the chief, and discovered the child’s mother was overwhelmed and unsure how to navigate the behavioral health system on her own.

Winquist said the mother was thankful for their assistance and is more at ease knowing her son and family have ongoing support.

In less than two months, the chief said the Crisis Intervention Team has generated over 100 mental health crisis calls and performed in-person outreach to more than 50 residents.

He said those numbers “prove the program’s high demand and early success.”

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