Waterbury, South Windsor Police Department is dealing with a spike in mental health crisis calls – NBC Connecticut

Local police departments are seeing a surge in calls about mental health emergencies and both Waterbury and South Windsor say this is partly due to the ongoing pandemic.

They meet the need in new ways: not only through intervention, but also through advice and support. Both departments have crisis intervention teams.

When an emergency call comes in, the officers move out. Two crisis intervention advisers also walk out the door at Waterbury Police. They work specifically with children and are part of the Crisis Intervention Team-Youth known as CIT-Youth.

During the day, Xylia Lopez and Deisha Barriera can be found in their counseling offices, working with public school students. After school, they assist police officers and answer calls involving children.

“When they see the cops in uniform, they might be a little intimidated, you know, we just come regularly,” Barriera said. “We have a lot of training and further education in the field of social work and also in the field of mental health. We offer services that police officers may not always be aware of.”

When called just before 5pm on a Thursday, the CIT Youth team helps de-escalate a situation by speaking to a mother and daughter.

“The mother had an 11-year-old daughter. She has some behavioral problems. We learned that she was very upset,” Barriera said.

“Mom asked the police department services with CIT-Youth to come and help de-escalate some behavior issues,” Lopez added.

The licensed behavior specialists ask children questions.

“Is there anyone you can talk to? Do you have friends? What coping skills can help you?” Lopez said, giving some examples of what she would say during a conversation.

They address the children in English or Spanish. Both Lopez and Barriera are bilingual.

The purpose is to connect with children and provide them with ongoing support after the police leave.

“We will be working with Mom and the school to make sure the family is supported and has services, and you know we’ll continue to have support after this call,” Lopez said.

“These services include counseling services as well as after-school programs,” Barriera said.

CIT-Youth was developed in close collaboration with Waterbury Public Schools and the Department of Children and Families. Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said there was a need as police noted a surge in calls involving children in a crisis consistent with the onset of COVID-19.

“There’s still a lot of stressors for families and children because of the pandemic,” Spagnolo said. “And we’ve seen some adverse consequences, some fatal consequences, quite frankly. We have seen children involved in shootings, we see children involved in auto thefts, children responsible for aggravated assaults, children in gun possession, stolen guns and firearms. And yet, a small proportion of them still commit an enormous act of violence.”

The program not only helps individual children going through a crisis, but also aims to curb juvenile delinquency in Waterbury as a whole. Since the start of CIT-Youth in November, the consultants have responded to 77 cases.

“There has been an enormous number of success stories where we have seen children who were about to be sent to juvenile detention being sent back home and their families being helped as well,” Spagnolo said. “I think the most important thing these crisis intervention workers do is follow up, right. So you don’t leave this family and this child hanging after the heartfelt handover, but offer them a kind of triage service.

Forty miles northeast, the South Windsor Police Department is also seeing a surge in crisis calls, which they believe are related to the pandemic.

“I think the COVID and whatever the lingering effects of the pandemic are, all of this can somehow intensify and create a perfect storm of what this problem is,” said Sgt. Mark Cleverdon.

While South Windsor Police are constantly receiving mental health-related calls, they saw a surge around the New Year.

“We typically see around 15 calls to service from people dealing with welfare checks, emotionally disturbed people. This December, for example, we saw almost twice as many,” said Cleverdon.

The department received 21 mental health-related calls in September, 18 in October, 15 in November and 28 in January.

Data for January has not yet been analyzed, but ahead of the full analysis Cleverdon said the breakdown was that the department responded to 40 welfare checks, 13 calls from the emotionally disturbed and four youth issues.

In January, the South Windsor Police Department posted about the surge on Facebook, writing: “We want to remind you that we are here for you.”

This is where crisis intervention training for officers comes in. Of the department’s 43 officers, 39 completed the five-day course, including Cleverdon.

“I think it gives our officers perspective,” he said. “It allows them to look at a situation, maybe not necessarily from their eyes or their point of view, but from what the other person is going through.”

All officers will complete the training by the end of the year and learn how to deploy resources e.g. B. Connecting people to the state mental health provider, CHR. In addition to the police, a mobile CHR unit also regularly responds to calls.

At the end of the day, Cleverdon said it’s about going beyond the officer’s role and listening.

“I think that means a lot when you’re talking about someone who’s really down if our officers can talk to them,” he said. “We are problem solvers now. We have an obligation to make sure that when we show up there, we not only find out what’s going on, but how we can help that person going forward?”

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