Cape & Islands DA, local police departments work to better handle mental health issues

Mental Health Concern Notification System put into place on Cape Cod

The Cape & Islands District Attorney's Office and local police departments are instituting a system to better handle arrests and other incidents involving persons with mental health issues. According to a release from the DA's Office, the Mental Health Concern Notification System is an extra step towards seeing people with mental health issues get the proper treatment they need.

The new initiative which was announced this week by the DA's Office and Cape Cod Chiefs of Police, has the blessing of the Behavioral  Health Provider Coalition of Cape Cod and the Islands. "The Behavioral Health Provider Coalition of Cape Cod and the Islands strongly supports the efforts of the Cape & Islands District Attorney's Office and area police departments to create an alternative approach for the processing of criminal cases which may involve a person with mental health issues," said Ron Holmes, steering committee co-chair of the coalition.

As part of the new system, following an arrest where mental health issues are suspected, the officer writing the report will fill out a "mental health concern notification form." The form will be turned into the DA's Office where an expedited review of the case will take place and alternative processing may be considered, the release said.

Speaking on behalf of the Cape Cod Chiefs of Police, Chatham Police Chief Mark Pawlina said, "Law enforcement agencies recognize the importance of persons afflicted with mental health issues to get the proper care and treatment they need. Even in situations where an arrest is necessary, the need for treatment does not go away." Chief Pawlina said he and his fellow chiefs realize that treatment may be a better course of action than incarceration and criminal prosecution for some. The chief went on to call the system a "positive step forward in developing a long term solution."

According to Holmes, some jurisdictions in the commonwealth have a Mental Health Court and while he hopes the Cape will one day have such a court, Holmes called the new notification system "the next best thing."

The form the arresting officer would fill out contains information already present in the police report including the arrested person's name, address, a description of their behavior and whether or not it is known if they are receiving mental health services. The officer will not be making a determination about the individual's mental health, only documenting concerns about a particular situation or incident, the release said.

It is the hope of the the District Attorney's Office and the Cape's police chiefs that the system will make it possible to bring in case workers and service providers early on. Better communication between agencies is intended to have a positive impact during street encounters and court appearances, the release said. 

"While the notification form might appear simple and straight forward, it speaks volumes of the ongoing and continued collaboration between mental health providers, law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office," said First Assistant District Attorney Michael Trudeau.  


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