SCPD, Family Service League Partner for Mental Health Programs

HAUPPAUGE, NY – Suffolk County and the Family Service League have partnered with three programs to help provide people with mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders with needed services. The programs will free up Suffolk police resources, according to an announcement Thursday by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison and the Family Service League.

The Suffolk County Police Department established a Behavioral Health Unit in August 2021 to implement programs to address mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness – issues that lead to frequent calls to the police. The unit was formed as part of the county’s police reform plan.

The three programs are:

  • 911 diversion: When deemed safe, emergency complaint operators transfer callers to a crisis hotline worker.
  • Telehealth Crisis Intervention: Trained workers who work with people with mental illness, substance use disorders and other behavioral health issues will be able to participate in a videoconference with social workers at the stabilization center diagnostic assessment (DASH).
  • High user: Suffolk Police will refer people with mental health crises who call the police three or more times in six months to Family Service League mental health professionals.

“The goal of these three programs is to reduce the stigma around mental health, defuse tense situations, fill gaps in behavioral health response, and ultimately provide those in crisis the treatment and help they need,” Bellone said.

The programs will help law enforcement defuse situations carefully.

According to Bellone, more than 20% of patrol officers have received enhanced training in mental health intervention or crisis intervention. The goal is for four officers and one supervisor per squad to be trained.

Mental health and first aid have also been introduced into the Suffolk Police Academy curriculum, so officers are trained in how to handle these situations.

“The bottom line here is that the police never know what might be on the other side of a 911 call,” Bellone said. “Often they are required to assist callers in emotional distress. In Suffolk County, we are fully committed to ensuring that our field officers are knowledgeable and highly skilled in as many scenarios as possible, including those involving critically mental health and crisis management situation.”

Harrison said that since June, about 150 calls have been diverted from the 911 center to the crisis hotline, which connects people in crisis with a behavioral health professional.

The department also has a 24/7 telehealth program that allows officers in the field to connect with social workers via video, according to Harrison.

Through the High User System, which allows police to refer people with mental health crises who call the police three or more times in six months to Family Service League mental health professionals, the department has made 173 referrals to the Family Service League. About 70% of those referrals had a positive outcome, Harrison said.

“This team effort between the Suffolk County Police Department and the Family Service League is critical to providing these services to those in crisis,” Harrison said.

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