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Tompkins County Crisis Alternative Response and Engagement Team to Launch

Tompkins County Whole Health and the Sheriff’s Office are announcing a newly created law enforcement and mental health co-response team called the Crisis Alternative Response and Engagement (CARE) Team. The CARE Team will be piloted this year with funding for Licensed Clinical Therapist positions (applications open through May 1 ,2023) and a Sheriff’s Deputy position dedicated to the program. The program will be piloted in Tompkins County outside of the City of Ithaca, while work is ongoing to determine programming that would cover the City’s jurisdiction.

As adopted in the collaborative Reimagining Public Safety plan to evaluate and implement alternative response models, the CARE team pilot program will aim to improve access to mental health and addiction services for residents experiencing crisis by having a specially trained law enforcement officer paired with a licensed clinical therapist who has experience in responding to mental health crises. Licensed clinical therapists will be employees within Mental Health Services of Tompkins County Whole Health.  The pilot program will dispatch CARE team members either directly following a 911 call for service or after another law enforcement officer has already arrived on scene and identified a mental or behavioral health crisis.

The pilot program will aim to divert individuals from the criminal justice system and avoid unnecessary hospitalization whenever possible. The program anticipates meeting these aims by de-escalating crisis situations, linking people in need with community treatment and support services, and providing in-person follow up support within the first 24-48 hours after the crisis.

The Community Justice Center (CJC) is developing evaluation metrics to assess the success of the pilot program, including how well it meets the goals of Reimagining Public Safety. More information on Reimagining Public Safety activities expected in 2023 can be found in the CJC workplan.

The new CARE team program is in the final stages of development and is expected to be operational later this spring and will offer co-response coverage in Tompkins County Monday through Friday during peak hours of need based on data previously collected by the Tompkins County Mobile Crisis Team.

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne stated, “The Sheriff’s Office recognizes that not all responses to calls for service require involvement with the criminal justice system. Law Enforcement and Mental Health workers have unique skill sets that can complement one another in crisis situations.” Osborne continued, “A co-response model involves police, who are trained to handle situations that could involve violence and potential injury, and mental health professionals who can consult with officers and offer direct care and resources to individuals in crisis.”

Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa stated, “We’re looking to take a compassionate, trauma-informed, whole health approach to individuals in crisis. This pilot program will increase law enforcement officers’ access to mental health expertise in real-time as well as increase the number of direct resources offered to someone in crisis.” Kruppa added, “Thank you to the Sheriff’s office for their partnership on this, and I am excited to see how well this program serves the public. I look forward to learning from the CARE team’s experience in the field and feedback from the public. Our focus is on reducing stigma, providing equitable care that meets people where they are, and prevention of crisis situations in our community.”

Monalita Smiley, Project Director of the Community Justice Center stated, “Throughout the Reimagining Public Safety process we’ve heard loud and clear that there is a great opportunity to have trained mental health professionals respond in a crisis situation, in this case alongside law enforcement. This is a pilot program that will use de-escalation and help to deliver social supports and resources that can help people become healthier and safer.” Smiley added, “Our evaluation of the program will look at how well we meet the goals set out under Reimagining Public Safety, and how well we are meeting the needs of the community by responding in a new and different way.”