Statewide — At a recent city hall-style forum, we spoke to local police chiefs about the biggest problems they’re dealing with and how they plan to address them. They cites one problem as the biggest challenge facing their department: they were inundated with more inquiries than any other service and had to think outside the box about how to deal with them.
Law enforcement officers in Maine wear suits all the time, knowing they can face just about anything. Their training prepares them for that. But now their biggest challenge is what they say the police department didn’t expect.
We are seeing an increase in calls for services when members of our community experience mental health-related crises.
“Frankly, mental illness and drug issues are out of control,” said Sean Gagan, director of public safety at Backsport.
Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Mosier said: “I think this is the biggest hurdle we face right now.
According to an article published by the American Psychological Association in 2021. It is estimated that at least 20% of police calls are related to a mental health or substance use crisis. In Vesey, mental health calls have more than doubled, from 14 in 2020 to 30 in 2022. In areas where hospitals are nearby, mental health calls are often connected to those facilities. In Augusta 2021, there were 87 mental health calls related to Maine General Medical Center. By 2022, that number has increased to 93. In Ellsworth, home of Northern Lights Main Coast Hospital, in 2021 he had 28 mental health calls. That number he will more than double to 58 in 2022. These numbers were provided by the chief himself.
Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills said police are in a tough spot because of the increasing number of calls for service.
“We became social workers and defaulted to who you call them. And now law enforcement agencies across the country are under scrutiny for that,” he said.
That’s why Bangor Police Sergeant Jason McCumbury says they’re introducing what they call the BCAT (Bangor Community Action Team).
“They are social workers, they answer the calls that are made through the police and make it easier for the officers,” says McAmbley.
He believes that once the team is up and running, police officers’ non-police services will be cut by 50%, and the right professionals will get the right training where they’re needed.
“It’s going to take a while for them to get up to speed, and I understand that. Police don’t have that expertise, so they’re spread out over the course of the day and weekends, sending people who need resources to them.” We are not social workers,” said McAmbley.
Chief Mills said such a program requires multi-layered investment from the community. But it’s a case worth making…
“To do that, you have to really get buy-in from the local tax base because you don’t get a lot of federal or state support. But that’s the model,” Mills said. .
“If the state is going to spend any additional budget in the next few years, it has to be on mental health,” Gagan said.
But it’s not just community member struggles that are in the spotlight now. The implied repercussions of incidents like the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, coupled with the everyday incidents that haunt police officers, have resulted in many career-ending and disturbingly high numbers among law enforcement. caused a suicide. The department is being forced to open a wider dialogue regarding its own mental health.
Super: Veazie Police Chief Mark Leonard said: Sandy Hook is not alone. It played a big part, but I think we’re a step away. We’ve always been the persona that we’re fixers and don’t worry about ourselves. We look at each other and say we need help, we need help, we need help. And that’s the dramatic change I’ve seen. ”
Leonard says the change has taken years, sometimes decades, but will be essential to maintaining a healthy police force in the future.
“We finally realized that it was affecting us. It’s our responsibility to make sure our military is okay. But if we’re not okay, it doesn’t matter if our military is okay,” Leonard said.
This City Hall was the first in hopes of becoming an ongoing conversation about the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the public they serve.