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City of Williamsport police to work with mental health, behavior specialists on some calls

Williamsport City Council authorized an agreement between the police department and a company that provides specialists to assist officers on mental health crisis emergency calls.

On average, one out of every 10 calls for police in the city involve some sort of significant mental health situation, city Bureau of Police Assistant Chief Jason Bolt said.

The resolution of agreement is with Redka Behavior Services. The cost for two years would be funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency grant, and not from any city dollars or general fund account, according to Bolt.

The agreement is for RBS to provide two licensed mental health professionals who will co-respond with officers on incidents in which individuals may be suffering from mental health illness, or co-occurring substance abuse, Bolt said. Training of officers is part of the contract, he noted.

Police said they are encountering an increasing number of individuals suffering from various forms of mental illnesses and co-occurring substance abuse problems.

The goal of this program is to incorporate a quicker mental health co-response, which will improve the experience and outcome for a person in a mental health crisis, officials told council.

It also is expected to provide a means of de-escalation, steps toward diversion of individuals from entering the criminal justice system and giving these people a connection to the appropriate mental health services.

RBS officials say they are going to be giving officers tools on how to respond to people suffering from mental and behavioral health emergencies.

These costs are not going to tap into the general fund and are covered for 24 months by the grant. Contract details are on the city website.

Councilman Jon Mackey, chairman of the council Public Safety Committee, asked Bolt to walk through what a response would look like. Mackey, a retired Philadelphia police officer, asked about different situations they might encounter.

Councilman Randy Allison asked who makes the call whether there’s a team together and are the 911 communications personnel group included in this and do they train in this area with different kinds of responses.

Part of RBS’s role will be to train the officers on how to identify who is in a mental health crisis, Bolt noted.

This also will involve 911 individuals, he added. That comprehensive approach was important to Allison.

Chief Justin Snyder said the co-response initiative will free up other officers to respond to other emergencies throughout the city.

The details on the financial breakdown are on the city website, however, it is completely covered by the grant for the next 24 months.

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