CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — In June, Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack said told 2 On Your Side that his department had seen an increase in calls for people dealing with mental illness.
"We know that jail isn't a solution, but treatment may be," Zack said.
In response, the department partnered with Endeavor Health Services to hire a full-time mental health professional, who will review police reports and cases for underlying mental health issues among other things.
Endeavor Health Services and the Cheektowaga Police Department hired University at Buffalo graduate Sarah Bonk.
Bonk is no stranger to the field of mental health.
"I started out under Judge Russell's court in the Buffalo mental health court as an intern. I worked at Crisis Services for about six and a half years," she said.
Bonk said she knew there was a need for her services, but she said the last few months proved that the need was greater than predicted.
"I thought that the need would be great, but I didn't necessarily recognize at that point that there would be a lot of different avenues where that need could be met," she said.
Since the program's inception on August 12, every person who has been transported to Erie County Medical Center involuntarily has received a follow-up with Bonk.
She has completed 131 follow-ups with people about mental health services.
Among those, seven people have received advocacy in the courtroom. Nine people have been provided with crisis intervention at Endeavor Health Services, and two people who were homeless have temporary housing.
"Clearly the creation of the position is justified, the need has certainly been there," Chief Zack said.
This is a first of its kind program in Western New York, and Chief Zack said the recent success has generated interest from other municipalities and police departments to launch similar programs.
"It allows the community to know that we can trust the department, the police agency to be able to provide other layers of service aside from just emergency response," Bonk said.