By: State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – Nov., 2017
The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a very timely annual breakfast where Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger and our Merrimack Valley Police Chiefs briefed us on the most current trends and challenges. I am thankful to the Chamber led by Haverhill City Councilor Joe Bevilacqua for the timing of this discussion as the MA House of Representatives begins debate on criminal justice reform.
In the presentations by all our law enforcement leaders at this forum, the challenge of effectively and compassionately addressing the crisis they encounter with an increasing number of cases related to individuals in mental illness crisis was front and center. Our Chiefs indicate that on average 30-40% of their calls are related to individuals in some form of mental health crisis.
The addiction crisis, of course, is directly related to this issue, as the wait times for mental health care in the Commonwealth remain at unacceptable levels.
Currently approximately 25% of state correctional inmates and 50% of county jail and house of correction detainees and inmates receive some mental health services. It is worth noting that nearly half of fatal police shootings from 2005-2015 involved individuals who were suicidal, mentally ill, or showed signs of mental health crisis.
Massachusetts was a leader in recognizing the inhumane conditions that had festered in our mental health institutions. That is why Massachusetts deinstitutionalized care by moving our mental health system to a community based approach.
The problem is that while the legislature has made some recent investments in outpatient mental health care, a significant legacy of deinstitutionalizing care has been to make mental health calls a large part of the job of police officers.
To address this issue I have worked with law enforcement, my colleagues in the Legislature, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI MA) to file legislation to increase access to proven training for officers. This model, referred to as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training, focuses on hands-on training instructed by officers with substantial experience in this field. Research on the CIT model has shown it to be effective in improving officer safety, keeping individuals with mental illness out of jail and helping individuals with mental health needs to get treatment. The legislation I filed focuses on ensuring that 25% of officers in the state of Massachusetts receive this training.
The great work that law enforcement leaders in Essex County are doing to divert individuals to programs that will keep them out of jail and help them become productive citizens cannot be overstated. As DA Blodgett explained, we are 49th in the Country for our percentage of incarceration even though we have the third highest population density. Law enforcement is clearly and effectively focused on rehabilitation. Crisis Intervention Team Training is one more tool to help them in their efforts.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the Legislature. She currently serves as the Vice Chair of Revenue. She can be reached at: 617.722.2380/Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or at firstname.lastname@example.org