N.J. program that pairs police, mental health screeners in South Jersey expands

Siren light on roof of police car at street.

(chalabala/BigStock)

A program that was piloted in South Jersey is being expanded to two police departments in Union County.

Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin announced Monday that the ARRIVE Together program will include the Elizabeth and Linden police departments starting later this month.

ARRIVE is an acronym for “Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation.” The program pairs a plain-clothes law enforcement officer with a certified mental health screener to respond to emergency calls for behavioral health crises. It was launched last December in Cumberland County and operates out of the State Police stations in Bridgeton and Port Norris.

“We’re not only diverting people away from the criminal justice system, though we are towards the services that they need,” said Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin. “But importantly, we’re reducing the likelihood of a use of force incident.”

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Platkin noted that in incidents that ARRIVE Together responders have been called to, there have been “zero uses of force.”

“If you think about that for a second, these are the cases that are most likely to result in use of force,” he added. “We know that a significant proportion of incidents that involve the use of force, including incidents that involve the use of deadly force, involve a mental health or emotional incident of mental health or emotional distress.”

The Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va. found in December 2015 that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely killed during a police encounter. That was the outcome in Philadelphia in October 2020, when 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr. was fatally shot by police officers as he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. His family, at the time, said they had called for help hoping to de-escalate the incident.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said that when ARRIVE Together launched in her county, she was looking for grants to fund similar programs at the Bridgeton, Millville, and Vineland police departments.

She said Monday that the search for grants is ongoing.

In the meantime, the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office announced last February that it received a federal grant for their EMBHED project. EMBHED stands for “Effective Mental and Behavioral Health Emergency Diversion.”

The three main components of the project are embedding social workers and mental health providers in the Millville Police Department, providing countywide training for law enforcement on crisis intervention, mental health first aid, and de-escalation, and developing a 24-hour, countywide on-call crisis response to assist on-scene at police incidents.

Webb-McCrae said the project, which has $705,000 in funding between the grant and matching funds from the county and Inspira Health Network, is in the planning stages.

“The two initiatives marry well and we are leveling up together due to the collaboration that is occurring with our mental health professionals who collaborate with us on the country mental health group,” she said.

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Officials at the news conference announcing the ARRIVE Together expansion noted that Elizabeth and Linden are departments that serve urbanized areas, compared to more rural Cumberland County. The two cities are outside of New York, where the majority of residents are people of color, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Elizabeth Police Chief Jim Sacca, joined at the podium by Linden Police Chief Dave Hart, said that policing has evolved and that they hope the program will change policing for the future.

“We could train our officers to be generalists, but we can’t make them specialists in every field,” Sacca said. “We’re hoping that through this program, we’ll be able to have the adequate resources in order to have the most efficient and effective service that we can provide to our citizens.”

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