New Jersey expanding program pairing cops with mental health counselors
Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said the program will reduce uses of force, build community trust, and protect state troopers from potentially physical or violent encounters. (Courtesy of the New Jersey Governor's Office)
A program that pairs plainclothes state troopers with mental health experts to better respond to mental health crises will expand to Elizabeth and Linden in Union County, acting Attorney General Matt Platkin announced Monday.
The program is intended to deescalate potentially volatile encounters between police and people in crisis from emotional distress or a mental health issue, while also ensuring that person gets treatment instead of incarceration, Platkin said.
“This really reflects a reality that over the past several decades, we’ve asked law enforcement, frankly, to do too much,” Platkin said. “They’re not just law enforcement officers anymore. We’ve asked them to be mental health professionals and behavioral health counselors and addiction specialists. And it’s not realistic to ask one person to be all of those things.”
The program launched last year in Cumberland County and proved so successful — with no uses of force — that officials eventually aim to expand it statewide, he said. Platkin announced the expansion at a police academy in Scotch Plains.
Officers most often resort to force when responding to calls that involve someone in emotional distress, under the influence, or in crisis from a mental illness, Platkin said. More than half of fatal police encounters involve such individuals.
The Attorney General’s Office began publicly reporting police use-of-force incidents in 2020 and tightened restrictions last year in an effort to reduce them. Officers used force almost 16,000 times last year, and more than 5,000 times this year through April 30, according to the office’s public database.
The program that will be expanded is called Arrive Together, which is short for “Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation.” Besides reducing uses of force, the program also helps build community trust and protects troopers from potentially physical or violent encounters, Platkin added.
In Cumberland County, departments deployed it during two eight-hour shifts a week, using data from dispatchers to determine when such calls were likeliest to come in, Platkin said.
“The goal is to have this full-time everywhere in the state,” he said.
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