NJ expands pilot to reduce police use of force on mental health calls

The New Jersey attorney general on Monday announced the state will expand a pilot program into Union County that pairs plainclothes police officers with mental health experts and sends them on emergency calls that involve people in crisis.

First launched last December in Cumberland County, the program has already met with some success, according to acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin. State statistics show mental health calls often lead to officers using force on the people they’re called to help. But the officer-and-expert teams didn’t use force once, Platkin said.

“A significant proportion of incidents that involve the use of force — including incidents that involve the use of deadly force — involve mental health or emotional distress,” Platkin said at a news conference in Scotch Plains. “So the fact that we’ve had zero uses of force [through the program] in Cumberland County underscores the importance of this program and the impact it can have.”

Platkin said the state will now partner with local law enforcement in the Union County towns of Linden and Elizabeth and try to replicate those results. Eventually, he wants to expand the program statewide, he said.

“My goal is to keep scaling it up,” Platkin said. “We know this is what is needed.”

When the initiative was unveiled six months ago, the attorney general’s office said two-thirds of every police use of force in New Jersey involved someone who either had mental illness or was under the influence. So did helped the public’s fatal encounters with the police.

This story will be updated.

Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news about those who safeguard your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: janoski@northjersey.com

Twitter: @stevejanoski

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