Hadley and Easthampton are putting plans in motion to answer the requests and demands of many locals - echoing a national cry -- to rethink "policing."
The new programs would have mental health (MH) clinicians brought in for 911 calls in situations that don't necessitate armed responders.
There are 911 calls that "are for mental health crises or substance use concerns or questions," said Jennifer LaRoche, vice president of acute and day programs for Clinical Support Options (CSO.), one of the largest mental health organizations in the area.
"Sometimes a police officer is required because of the safety of the situation, but there are other times a clinician can go and meet the person where they're at, provide resources and a full evaluation, and connect that person to services," added LaRoche.
There are still decisions to be made regarding whether the MH clinicians will be riding along with the police or on-call, meeting them at the scene as needed.
Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti much prefers the idea of having MH professionals together with officers.
"The way I envision this is that we'll have clinicians on a schedule to go out with our officers, then come out on an on-call basis," Alberti said. "But on an ideal basis, we want them with us when we respond to these calls."
While the rethinking of "policing" is decades-old, there's been an outpouring of support and demands since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauving in Minneapolis just over a year ago, May 25, 2020. That day sparked spontaneous and later planned Black Lives Matter protests in all 50 states and over 60 other countries.
Initiatives to involve "community care" organizations have been spouting throughout the United States since the murder of Floyd. States have passed over 240 police oversight bills over the past year. The number of new city and town programs are uncountable.
CSO inaugurated a similar program serving Greenfield, Montague, and Deerfield this spring. In Northampton, the city is doing the groundwork to establish a Department of Community Care. The department would operate independently from the police and send specially-trained and, of course, unarmed responders to respond to nonviolent calls.