New counseling program assists police

MIDDLEBURY — The Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) has assembled a new program that will assist police across the county in dealing with complaints involving people who are emotionally distraught or suffering from mental illness.
The Counseling Service recently assembled its four-person “Community Enhancement Program,” designed to help find local solutions for people with mental health issues, noted CSAC Executive Director Robert Thorn. Some of those clients might otherwise have been admitted to the Vermont State Hospital. But the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury was closed last year due to damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene and the Legislature endorsed a new de-centralized mental health services model that emphasizes local treatment of patients.
This paved the way for CSAC’s Community Enhancement Program, whose members will quickly work to assess clients’ mental health needs and get them the help they need. CSAC also has a Crisis Support Team to aid in this endeavor.
“It is a whole new level of support,” Thorn said.
That support will come in handy for the Middlebury Police Department, according to Chief Tom Hanley, who said his force until May was operating without five of its 14 uniformed personnel due to injuries and Vermont Police Academy training obligations. Some of those officers have returned, but Hanley anticipates his force will remain two short into September.
In the meantime, calls for service have been coming in at a steady clip — approximately 3,000 since the beginning of the year. Some of those calls are fairly routine, but others are more involved — such as burglaries, drug investigations and assaults —requiring hours of an officer’s time to process. Those more involved cases, according to Hanley, include requests to deal with people deemed “out of control” in homes, Porter Hospital or other locations around town.
Hanley said his force on Tuesday, July 10, was called to deal with a few simultaneous mental health-related cases. Police in such cases have to defuse the situation, at times help restrain an individual, and sometimes take the person into custody. That means time spent away from traffic enforcement or other calls that come in.
“The Counseling Service has been good helping us,” Hanley said. “(CSAC) wants to be able to respond in ‘real time’ to situations … rather than us taking someone into custody.”
Thorn is optimistic the Community Enhancement Program will enable CSAC to lend even more assistance to police in mental health cases. Indeed, the state’s new emphasis on local mental health services has put CSAC in an expansion mode after recent years of belt tightening and constriction. The agency is currently renovating basement space at its 89 Main St. and 109 Catamount Park locations to accommodate its growth.
Thorn expects the renovations to be completed this summer.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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