The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for individuals at risk for mental health issues. Parties, large family gatherings, and other seasonal events can exacerbate raw feelings and create negative situations. If feelings of discontent are combined with alcohol or drugs used to self-medicate, a hostile environment may result.
As first responders to all too many heart-wrenching scenarios, the St. Mary's County Sheriff’s Office is well aware that the holidays provide not only opportunities for increased crime but also an increase in calls related to people experiencing mental health crises. For this reason, Sheriff Tim Cameron has partnered with the Southern Maryland Community Network's Community Behavioral Health Liaison Program (CBHL), adding a mental health component to his maximum deployment operations. The Behavioral Health Liaison, Susan Onofrio, is a clinician who provides access to community resources for those experiencing mental health crises in St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert Counties
“With saturation patrols to capture drivers under the influence and enhanced robbery patrols, we strategically deploy our resources during the holiday season to provide a safe holiday experience for everyone in the community. In addition to these concerns, we are also prepared for those who might be experiencing a mental health crisis,” says Sheriff Cameron. “Our officers have been undergoing Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training in order to learn to recognize and respond appropriately to presenting signs of mental illness, and we have partnered with a Behavioral Health Liaison to offer on-scene resources and alternatives to arrest for these individuals.”
The benefits of the partnership between the Sheriff's Office and the CBHL played out recently during maximum deployment. When a call that fit the profile of a mental health crisis was dispatched, two attending Behavioral Health clinicians accompanied Captain Daniel Alioto, Commander of Vice/Narcotics and coordinator of the CIT training program at the Sheriff’s Office and Captain Steve Hall, Commander of Special Operations and the Lexington Park COPs Unit, to Lexington Park. Deputies informed the officers that a man who currently appeared to be under the influence of PCP had also experienced mental health issues in the past. While deputies arranged for the man to be transported to MedStar St. Mary's Hospital under an emergency petition, the clinicians provided the man’s wife with a list of resources that she and her husband could utilize during this time of emergency and beyond.
Patrice Duperval, LCSW-C, Supervisor of CBHL and Tri-County Team Leader for Targeted Case Management at Southern Maryland Community Network comments, “This call was a perfect example of a situation where we were able to be the calm after the storm.” She added, “Both the husband and wife will benefit from on-going services.”
After responding to that call, the clinicians then met formally with the deputies of the Lexington Park COPs Unit. Aware that the deputies regularly have interactions with individuals suffering from mental health crises, the specialists explained how they could assist law enforcement in providing these individuals and their families with the care and resources they need. Such assistance can ultimately reduce recidivism on the part of these individuals.
While they were still in the area, the COPs Unit received a call to check on the welfare of a homeless man, and the clinicians were able to offer the man options for a warm place to stay over the winter. On the way back from the second call, another call came in from a local store. The owner stated that an individual was displaying erratic and off-key behavior. Based on the description given, the clinicians recognized the previously encountered individual. They responded to the scene with deputies and were ready to provide him assistance and resources.
Responding to these calls also provided the clinicians and the deputies an opportunity to watch each other in action. The CIT-trained deputies were able to use the skills they had learned to identify those exhibiting signs of a mental illness, and then employed those skills to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations. From there, the clinicians supplied the individuals involved with links to appropriate community resources and referrals for proper treatment, including personalized safety planning.
The Sheriff’s Office will continue the partnership with the Southern Maryland Community Network even after the holidays. Clinicians will assist in providing checks on the homeless in January as well as mental health checks during the hot summer months, ensuring that individuals in St. Mary’s County receive the resources they need throughout the year.
Captain Daniel Alioto, Commander, says, “As deputies, we see first-hand the importance partnering with trained clinicians while we respond to calls for service involving citizens who may be in a mental crisis; providing immediate contact and resources without a detention or arrest component is critical.” He added, “Especially during the holidays, we want to make every effort to afford both individuals in crisis and their families to remain in a safe environment as we work together to provide them the long-term help they deserve.”
|Members of the Lexington Park Cops Unit meet with clinicians from the Southern Maryland Community Network to discuss how they can continue to work together to assist individuals in accessing resources and care.|
|Lexington Park COPs Unit deputies along with clinicians from the Southern Maryland Community Network offer a homeless man living in Lexington Park resources during the Sheriff's Office Maximum Deployment Operation over the weekend.|