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Starting in January City of Poughkeepsie police officers began wearing body cameras.

Poughkeepsie Journal

City of Poughkeepsie officers will soon have backup for instances in which mental health support may be more effective than traditional policing of crime.

A behavioral health professional provided by Mental Health America of Dutchess County will assist the city police department through a pilot program. Police Chief Tom Pape said the case worker will have an office in the department, working five days a week, and assist officers on calls regarding mental health.

“(They will be used) for anything from a juvenile that is having some issues with learning from home, or not being able to go to school, to a homeless adult that is alcohol dependent that doesn’t want our help but would accept help from a mental health professional,” Pape said. 

The program, which Mayor Rob Rolison said is slated to begin by the end of this month, comes amid calls from advocates touting the importance of supporting the community holistically and funding programs outside of the police department, in the hopes of better serving residents’ needs and defusing possible crime.

Pape noted the city has seen “an uptick” in mental health calls since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. He said it is “nothing alarming, but it is certainly something that needs to be addressed.”  

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He said he pulled $15,000 to $20,000 from the department’s budget to run the pilot program until the end of the year, and Rolison plans put aside more money for the program in his 2021 budget proposal, according to the city’s release Wednesday announcing the initiative.

Rolison said the program will be a “significant benefit” to the community. 

“We recognize that our police officers respond to more than just reports of criminal activity,” Rolison said in the release. “They are first responders who have to answer all sorts of calls, and many of them involve mental-health issues.”

The idea for the health worker came from City Administrator Marc Nelson nearly a month ago, Pape said.

The case worker will work under the department’s Juvenile Division, the Behavioral Evaluation and Assistance Team, and alongside the department’s Juvenile Division Youth Worker. Pape said the case worker’s hours will depend on when the department has its highest volume of mental health calls, and they would go wherever they are needed. 

“This person is going to allow us to have someone on staff that can respond to a call, hopefully mitigate whatever is going on, work on getting the individual the services they need, and it’ll become part of the caseload,” Pape said. “So it’s not just fix this today. It’ll give us the ability to continue to follow up with this person and or their family.” 

Katelyn Cordero: kcordero@poughkeepsiejournal.com; 845-437-4870; Twitter: @KatelynCordero. 

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