A first-of-its-kind program is helping to bring additional resources to people with mental health issues. The Monroe County Forensic Intervention Team (FIT) pairs local police officers with mental health professions when responding to certain mental health emergencies.
All 11 police departments in Monroe County and the sheriff’s office take part in the initiative.
FIT launched in 2017, and since then members said the number of arrests and 911 calls have gone down.
“We are proud to be part of a shining example of professional collaboration with the Monroe County Office of Mental Health,” Monroe County Undersheriff Kory Brown said in a statement. “Responding to a call for service alongside a clinician with extensive training and expertise in the mental health field is beneficial to all parties. FIT provides real-time assistance and engagement to people that may be experiencing a challenging time in their lives. Our deputies are grateful for the opportunity to work alongside these selfless professionals.”
Kim Butler created the program. She’s the FIT Supervisor and clinical & forensic services chief with the county’s Mental Health Office.
Butler said in certain situations, instead of sending people to the hospital or even jail, they connect them with resources for help.
“It’s new and different; it’s changing the face of the 911 system in Monroe County,” she said. “A lot of times, people don’t have anyone else to call, and that’s why they call 911. So, we’re trying to build their system up and get them connected so they have more resources involved.”
According to FIT members, the program is working. The number of people to whom they’ve provided aid went from 800 in 2017 to more than 2,210 in September. Additionally, time spent in jail or a hospital decreased.
Greece Police Chief Phelan, who also chairs the Monroe County Law Enforcement Council said, “For far too long, we relied on police officers to interact with people with mental health crisis in the field with the only option is having that officer bring that person to an emergency room for evaluation. I think we all know that that’s not working.”
FIT members have radios that allow them to respond directly to dispatch. When they arrive at the scene, they help law enforcement de-escalate crisis situations.
Gates Police Officer Rebecca Leonard, a trained crisis intervention officer, responds to many of 911 calls where she said mental health issues are the underlying cause.
“What we deal with is mental health issues all across-the-board from schizophrenia to drug addiction, alcohol addiction, suicidals; we deal with it on a daily basis,” said Leonard.
Officer Leonard believes FIT is saving lives.
“Sometimes, it takes people’s lives and, sometimes, we’re able to intervene, so it’s really rewarding when we’re able to intervene,” she said.
Mark Wesche of Irondequoit said FIT could help his friend get the help she needs.
“She has OCD and does strange things,” he said. “She gets sent to the hospital a lot and then gets released and nothing ever happens. I think this might be a good idea. I know there’s a lot of times when police aren’t sure of what to do, and perhaps a mental health professional would be very handy to have along.”
The FIT program has grown from three members to six full-time mental health clinicians. They are available in person Monday through Friday and then by phone after 10 p.m. and on weekends. The goal is to have FIT members available in person seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
— WHAM 13