BUFFALO, N.Y. — Police responses to mental health crisis calls have been under scrutiny recently, nationwide and here in Western New York.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced Monday afternoon the formation of a new behavioral health team with the Buffalo Police Department in partnership with Endeavor Health Services.
"The team will be comprised of six police officers, two lieutenants, three clinicians and the clinicians' program supervisor," he said.
Added Sarah Bonk, the program manager for Police Behavioral Health Response Teams at Endeavor Health Services: "We want to make sure that we have every opportunity to help de-escalate a situation,"
Endeavor Health Services has experience with this kind of work.
The organization partnered with the Cheektowaga Police Department in August of 2019.
2 On Your Side reported on that program back in November.
"A big part of why the program is successful in the Town of Cheektowaga is because the relationships that are built between law enforcement and the clinicians that they work with, and that's really what we want to emulate here in Buffalo as well," Bonk said.
Bonk explained clinicians will be responding to calls involving mental health crises alongside law enforcement.
"When it comes to mental health calls, there isn't really a great toolkit that's available for law enforcement to rely on to be able to come up with solutions at the time of a call," Bonk said.
"So we really want to make sure that's what we focus on, that while there's an active call going on, you have the tools and resources necessary to be able to get that individual engaged with the appropriate services."
She added that they'll also be looking for trends in case they come across a situation where they can intervene before it rises to the level of crisis.
"The ultimate goal is just to make sure that we're providing collaborative clinical care to those in the community that have a difficult time accessing it," Bonk said, "and to really make sure that we're saturating people with mental health conditions that need help and treatment back into the mental health system."
With the official launch of the Behavioral Health Team expected in October, Bonk said she's eager to get to work.
The announcement from Mayor Brown about the formation of the team came after an officer-involved shooting occurred Saturday during a response to a mental health crisis call.
The man who was experiencing a mental health crisis struck a female police officer, and when he tried to swing again, the officer's partner shot the man in the abdomen.
Mayor Brown said the formation of the team has been in the works for a while but was put on hold because of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.