CUMBERLAND — The Cumberland Police Department is now home to its own mental health crisis unit, a special investigative team dedicated to helping the most vulnerable members of the community.
The Cumberland Assertive Response and Engagement, or CARE, team consists of Cumberland police officers who will work collaboratively with community partners to be a link between residents whose mental illnesses cause run-ins with local law enforcement and the mental health, addiction and social services that can help them.
The department’s leaders say they want to help the members of their community who struggle to recognize their actions are wrong and those whose diagnosed mental disorders sometimes cause disruptions.
The team’s formation comes just as Hancock County law enforcement leaders played host to a seminar this week on mental crisis intervention, which Cumberland’s department attended.
Three officers have agreed to volunteer for the CARE team. Town officials have also agreed to hire a part-time licensed mental health worker who can, once a month, help officers review incident reports to look for any missed mental or emotional issues, suicide risks or other opportunities for specialized care.
It’s going above and beyond the typical service police officers provide their communities, Chief Mike Crooke said, but leaders hope it will help to decrease the number of unnecessary arrests and keep officers patrolling the streets.
Crooke was inspired to create the team after reports showed his officers spent more than 200 hours in 2017 investigating non-criminal matters that derived from mental health issues, he said.
His officers are happy to help anyone in need, he said; but those are hours they could have spent investigating real crimes. And the people they’ve sometimes arrested and carted off to jail aren’t ones who need to be incarcerated. They need help, he said.
So, the CARE team will help their fellow officers de-escalate emotional situations, and then follow up with a family after an incident to ensure the person is getting the medical help they need, taking any and all prescribed medications and seeking the help of counselors. Team members will also connect those in need with groups and organizations in the area who can help them further.
All members of the Cumberland Police Department have undergone crisis intervention training, so anyone who arrives on scene to help a person with a mental illness is trained on how best to calm a situation, Crooke said.
He hopes that as word of the CARE team and its mission spreads, residents in need of mental health services will seek the help of a CARE team member before an emergency arises. And if an situation warrants a 911 call, he wants people know they can ask for a CARE team member to respond.