Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle and Stoneham Police James McIntyre are pleased to announce their Departments have received a multi-year state grant to improve the way they serve those suffering from mental illness or substance use challenges.

The grant, funded by the Department of Mental Health, will help the departments jointly establish an Arrest/Jail Diversion Program. The grant will provide the departments $45,000 in the current fiscal year, and $90,000 per year for at least the next five years.

The clinician will be embedded in both Departments and connect residents in need to critical services. The clinician will train officers for improved and more consistent responses on mental health calls, and ride with officers on shifts with higher call volumes. The clinician also will serve as the Department’s conduit to Eliot Community Health Services, which provides community-based services.

The Melrose and Stoneham Police Departments have adopted the One Mind Campaign, supported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Through the campaign, departments pledge to implement practices to improve mental health programming, training, and procedures.

Residents have also urged the Departments to strongly emphasize mental-health challenges during quarterly stakeholder meetings.

“Mental-health calls are a small percentage of our calls, but connecting people to resources in those situations can be life-changing,” Chief McIntyre said. “Maybe three years ago, our officers didn’t always know the right questions to ask, and the person they were dealing with would have gone to court and had a record that would have followed them the rest of their lives. Ideally we’ll be able to intervene before the handcuffs go on.”

“By having interactions with people on a weekly or monthly basis, the clinician can prevent a one-time flare-up that could result in a court proceeding,” said Stoneham Sgt. Christopher Apalakis, the Department’s Grant Administrator.

Stoneham Police Officers responded to 10 mental health-related calls in a recent two-week period. Four calls involved a person making suicidal statements. Two officers were assaulted during one of the 10 calls.

“We go to the same small number of addresses, and we deal with the same people,” Chief Lyle said. “With the diversion program our goal is to reduce the volume of those calls. If we can reduce that volume, it’s a win for both communities.”

Chief Lyle and Chief McIntyre hope to hire the clinician by mid-July. The clinician will work three days each week in one town and two days in the other but be available to respond to urgent calls in either towns through a mutual-aid agreement.

“We’re grateful the state, our local leaders and State House delegation for ensuring our towns received this funding,” Chief Lyle said. “As a Department we will be better able to help those in crisis.”

“Thank you to Donna Kausek, Clinical Director at Eliot working with the NAN Project, who tirelessly advocated for this grant,” Chief McIntyre said. “And I applaud Sgt. Apalakis, who spent countless hours working to make this program and grant award possible.”

“Mental health challenges and substance use disorder directly affect 1 in 4 adults in Massachusetts, but we have a long way to go when it comes to guaranteeing that everyone can access the care they need,” said state Sen. Jason Lewis. “This exciting collaboration between the state Department of Mental Health, the Melrose and Stoneham Police Departments, and local and state officials represents an exciting opportunity to support residents experiencing mental health emergencies with jail diversion and community-based services.”

“With Chair Michael Day, I was glad to support the Melrose and Stoneham Police Departments in applying for this state grant and am thrilled that the joint initiative will receive state financial support, greatly benefiting both communities,” said state Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian. “I applaud our Departments in embracing new, holistic methods like the addition of a shared social worker to support de-escalation protocols and offer mental health resources.”

Tom Zuppa is a JGPR Account Executive based in North Andover. He can be reached at 978-769-5614 or tom@jgpr.com

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