By Holly Crocco
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Department is applying for a $400,000 federal grant to develop a crisis intervention team to better respond to calls related to individuals experiencing a mental health emergency, and improve the department’s overall community policing.
“Essentially, we would allocate some of that money to the Department of Social Services to hire a mental health clinician to partner with law enforcement – with the sheriff’s department – a designated member to respond to intervention in mental health crisis situations,” Sheriff Kevin McConville explained at the County Legislature’s May 9 Health Committee meeting.
According to the sheriff, in 2020, the department responded to 758 calls involving a mental health crisis. In 2021, that number was 866, and in 2020 it was 953.
“These situations can present a significant challenge to the community, as well as law enforcement,” said McConville. “By creating a co-responder team modeled after a number of these programs across the nation, we believe we will be able to provide better service, greater intervention, and treatment programs for those undergoing a mental health crisis.”
The funding would provide for two years of training and resources to facilitate effective responses and routine interactions between law enforcement and individuals with behavioral-health-related issues, noted the sheriff.
With the department averaging about three calls per day that involve a mental-health-related situation, this will allow it to train officers to respond, along with a mental health clinician, and utilize crisis de-escalation techniques, possibly divert the individual from becoming involved in the criminal justice system, and connect them to behavioral health services in the community.
Sara Servadio, deputy commissioner of DSS, explained that the department started implementing similar procedures last year. “Of those cases that we’ve worked on together, we’ve been able to decrease the amount of times those individuals are being sent to the hospital,” she said.
Of the 900-plus number of people who were taken to the emergency room last year for psychiatric issues, Servadio said only about 300 were admitted. “So, we’re looking at a very large number of people that don’t need to be in the emergency room,” she explained. “We’ve seen excellent response to what we’re doing, but it’s impossible for us to maintain what we’re doing now.”
While the clinician would have a desk at the sheriff’s office and respond to calls along with a deputy, Servadio said the plan is to have all deputies trained in crisis intervention within five years – which hopefully some of the grant funding will help facilitate.
In the future, additional state and federal funding will be sought out.
McConville added that his office works with other law enforcement departments across the county, as well as DSS and the Putnam County Youth Bureau, to identify those who make repeat calls for services, to identify people who may need a treatment plan.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino, R-Patterson, voiced full support for the sheriff’s department applying for the grant.
“I think this is great,” she said. “We’ve been talking about this in concept for a while now, and the approach to responding to some of these calls that involve a person with mental health issues and how we react to it, and that approach is so significant and this certainly addresses the training and the person that would be able to go on these calls and be effective in these situations.”
Legislator Erin Crowley, R-Carmel, agreed.
“I think this is fantastic,” she said. “I think continuity is a huge factor when you’re dealing with people who are in distress, and follow-through is also good with social workers.”
Legislator Amy Sayegh, R-Mahopac Falls, called it a fabulous program. “It’s a great step for Putnam County,” she said. “I hope you get the grant.”