Pilot program will pair state troopers with mental-health experts, but not everywhere in Jersey

A pilot program that would pair a New Jersey State Trooper with a certified mental health screener to respond together to 911 calls for behavioral health crises is ready to deploy, Attorney Andrew J. Bruck and New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick J. Callahan said.

The initiative, known as ARRIVE Together (“Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence & Escalation”) will operate out of the State Police’s Cumberland County stations in Bridgeton and Port Norris.

Across Jersey, two of every three uses of force by law enforcement involve a civilian identified as either suffering from mental illness or who is under the influence. Over half of all fatal police encounters occur in similar circumstances. The ARRIVE Together Initiative is a recognition these numbers are unacceptable, and a step toward improving those outcomes, Bruck and Callahan said.

Certified mental-health screeners are state-funded roles that operate in all New Jersey counties. The Cumberland County Guidance Center runs the crisis intervention and psychiatric screening program that is partnering with State Police in the ARRIVE Together Initiative.

A guidance center screener will travel with a trooper in the trooper’s radio car to respond to 911 calls for service relating to mental, emotional or behavioral crises during the pilot shifts. Such calls for service will include mental health incidents, confused or disoriented persons, welfare checks and suicide watch.

The Rutgers School of Public Health will perform an assessment, led by Perry N. Halkitis, of the pilot program in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. In the course of the assessment, Rutgers will interview both participating troopers and screeners after their shifts responding to behavioral health emergencies, as well as review data relating to the qualifying calls for service. After gathering and reviewing the data, Rutgers will provide an objective and independent evaluation of the pilot that will help determine subsequent phases of the ARRIVE Together Initiative.

“In modern times, we ask law enforcement officers to undertake roles they never expected when choosing to serve — marriage counselor, addiction specialist, social worker. And increasingly, officers are asked to act like doctors and psychiatrists, determining what drug a person may have taken, or what mental health condition they may be experiencing,” Bruck said. “We need to respond to our community members in crisis with clinicians and compassion, and we need to divert individuals with mental illness away from the criminal justice system. Today’s announcement is yet another step in our effort to implement Gov. Murphy’s vision for public safety in New Jersey.”

“What makes this program unique is that ARRIVE Together immediately connects a mental health professional to the person in crisis from the onset of the call for service,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “With this partnership, our strategies for response and treatment are significantly augmented, and gives us more options to assist the individual in need, based on the assessment of the mental health professional. The specialist on scene can recommend an array of resources as the situation unfolds, which is an amazing advantage to de-escalate and resolve the problem. The New Jersey State Police is committed to developing innovative thinking and strategies to better serve the communities we have sworn to protect.”

It appears many within the NJSP are on board with the program, as well.

Capt. Frank Serratore, president of the State Troopers Superior Officers Association, spoke of a directive made a century ago that still applies today when he said: “In 1921, Col. Schwarzkopf issued the New Jersey State Police General Order No. 1 emphasizing that members of the New Jersey State Police should bear in mind that they are a preventive as well as a repressive force and that the prevention of crime is of greater importance than the punishment of criminals.

“Here we are 100 years later and the New Jersey State Police still hold this order in the highest regard. The ARRIVE Together Program will provide field operations troopers with an additional tool to safely deescalate high risk calls for service and allow for crisis intervention by reducing instances of people in need entering the criminal justice system by linking them to community-based resources.”

Beyond the ARRIVE Together Initiative, the AG’s office is working to ensure all law enforcement officers are prepared for potential interactions with community members experiencing behavioral health crises. To that end, in consultation with subject matter experts, the office has developed a reference card for law enforcement officers summarizing the types of disorders they may encounter, symptoms individuals may experience and suggested responses.

The purpose of the card is not to ask officers to become doctors or psychiatrists, but rather, to gather basic resources on behavioral crisis in a single, accessible location. The double-sided reference card is being distributed to all 38,000 law enforcement officers across the New Jersey.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.