N.J. officials will send police with mental health experts to 911 crisis calls in state’s largest city
Officials announced the expansion of a pilot program into Newark that partners mental health screeners with police officers
By S.P. Sullivan
NEWARK, N.J. — The man needed help, but he didn’t want help.
Suffering from a mental illness with nowhere to go but Newark Penn Station last month, the man could have been forced by police into a squad car or an ambulance and hauled away.
Instead, authorities say, a mental health worker paired with police officers talked the man into getting the help he needed.
“In some ways we’re proving a negative because we’re trying to say what could have happened if we didn’t do this,” state Attorney General Matthew Platkin told reporters during a press conference Tuesday at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
“But if you watch incidents that go badly, so often they start like that: an innocent interaction where somebody needs help. In this case, we’re able to get them that help in a way that’s clinically appropriate and safer for everyone involved.”
Citing “extraordinary” success of a pilot program pairing plainclothes cops with mental health experts, New Jersey officials on Tuesday announced an expansion of the program, dubbed “ARRIVE Together,” into Newark.
The pilot program pairs a plainclothes officer driving an unmarked car with a mental health professional for 911 calls involving people in crises. Launched in 2021, it is now operating in some capacity in more than 42 towns across nine counties in the state, according to data from the Attorney General’s Office.
Typically, a 911 call for a person acting erratically and at risk of harming themselves or others will bring an officer in uniform, who may or may not have received training for dealing with a person in crisis.
But since June, mental health screeners from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care have been paired with Newark and NJ Transit cops three days a week to handle such calls.
Over the last month, the team handled more than 80 cases.
“We’ve essentially eliminated the use of force and we’ve had no injuries,” Platkin said of the response.
Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Frage said the program would soon be expanded to the city’s downtown, another magnet for those experiencing mental health issues.
“Prior to all these programs, police would show up at scenes, we have to be the social worker, the counselor, the medical technician,” Frage said. “We have to go to domestic violence situations, we have to call social services.”
By showing up with social workers in tow, he said, “it truly takes that pressure off of us to do that work so we can focus on our responsibilities.”
Lakeesha Eure, the director of Newark’s Office of Violence Prevention, said the new program formalizes cooperation between police in the city and social service workers that’s been happening for some time.
“When we get to scenes, we speak to the supervisor at the scene, they know we’re there, they tell us what they need and we tell them what we need in return,” she said.
“It has to be a give and a take.”
A study by the Brookings Institution held up the program as a national model, finding it “has the potential to improve police-community relations, change law enforcement culture, and provide substantive assistance to people suffering from mental health symptoms.”
State lawmakers allocated $10 million towards expanding the program this year.
Platkin said the goal is to “be the first state in the country to have an alternative response program statewide.”