The City of New London is working to decrease the number of mental health-related calls that police are responding to.
“People with a disease should get treatment. Not police showing up at their door," said Jeanne Milstein, director of human services for the city. "A mental health disorder is not breaking the law. It is a disease."
According to Milstein, about 40% of all police calls in New London are related to mental health issues. To drive that number down, the city is introducing a peer navigator program.
The peer navigators would be people with lived mental health experience. After someone in the city experiences a mental health crisis and calls police, a navigator would automatically follow up with that person.
“Working with the individual to get treatment, working with the individual to help get housing and jobs. It is a very holistic approach," said Milstein.
The city does have structures in place to respond to mental health crises already. About 30% of NLPD officers have received crisis intervention training, according to the city. The police department also works with social workers.
“We have crisis mental health workers right now that are available, but addressing a crisis does not address the underlying issue," said Milstein.
Captain Matthew Galante with the NLPD said that the men and the women of the department will be eager to collaborate with the navigators on the program. He called it a step in the right direction.
"That follow up component is key to ensuring success with this type of program," said Galante.
The navigators would first work with people who are already known to police as frequent callers.
"Hopefully by the right kind of engagement, the right kind of treatment, the right kind of supports, we won’t see that person again," said Milstein.
New London uses the same model to address overdoses in the city. Since introducing navigators, hospital transports for overdoses in New London have decreased by 75% in the last five years, according to Milstein.
The idea for the navigator program came from the mayor's public safety policy review board.
John McKnight, dean of institutional equity and inclusion at Connecticut College, chaired the committee.
“We care about emotional and physical safety and we want to support our residents in different ways other than sending law enforcement to resolve their concerns," said McKnight. “It’s not going to resolve every issue. There’s still so much to be addressed, but this is a really important step."
Mayor Michael Passero included funding for at least three navigator positions in the upcoming budget. If the budget is passed, the program could be rolled out by fall.