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Albany County program trying to find right response to nonviolent emergency calls

Jul 07, 2021 11:43 am

Bethany Bump reports in the Times Union that the Albany County Crisis Officials Responding and Diverting program launched earlier this month as a test designed to improve outcomes for nonviolent emergency calls in Albany County’s and rural Hilltowns. The program is for diverting police from situations where they’re not needed, reducing the chances of unnecessary harm and death, according to Stephen Giordano, director of the county’s mental health department. “You bring a law enforcement officer who is not trained in handling mental health crises to a volatile situation with a weapon — I think the logic is bad things could happen, and sometimes they do,” Giordano said. Katie Flanigan, the clinical director of emergency services and training for Albany County’s Department of Mental Health, explained how the poloce aren't the answer to all emergencies “Individuals that are in an emotional crisis, they feel it,” she said of the stigma that falsely equates mental illness with violence and criminality. “They’ll say, ‘Why are the police here? Am I gonna get arrested?’ Their mere presence can escalate things.” The program has trained dispatchers in the Hilltowns to evaluate whether a call requires a police response. “Mentally ill people are more likely to be the victim of crime than the perpetrator of crime,” Flanigan said. “And it’s really untreated mental illness — usually in combination with substance abuse — that is the driver of violence, if there is an association at all. Unfortunately, I think most people think if you’re crazy you’re violent — and that’s just not true.” Researchers from the University at Albany will collect, track, and analyze data on the program. Already there have been cases such as an elderly woman with dementia who was repeatedly calling the police to report her caregiver, whom she assumed was an intruder. “The social worker was able to talk her down and de-escalate the situation, and she had medical complaints so we evaluated her and had an ambulance come,” said Nena Ruiz, paramedic supervisor for the new program. “It was exactly how we imagined ACCORD would work.” Read more about this story in the Times Union.