New London to start new program to help cut down on number of mental health calls police receive

New London

NEW LONDON, Conn. (WTNH)– 20 years ago Margaret Lancaster says a police officer saved her life. She had been pulled over because she was under the influence and she was planning to hurt herself.

“He listened to what I had to say and he asked me what was wrong? And are you alright?” said Lancaster who is the Health Program Coordinator for the Ledge Light Health District.

It was that compassion and kindness which helped drive her down a new path. Now sober for 16 years, she is a peer navigator for those with opioid addictions. She has lived substance abuse and mental health experiences and says the city’s plan to hire people like her to help others with mental health issues can be successful.

“That’s where relationships get built and I think that’s where the trust is built,” said Lancaster.

“About 40 percent of all calls to the New London police department involve someone with a mental health issue,” said Jeanne Milstein, Director of New London Human Services.

The city is hoping to reduce the number of those calls by getting people in crisis the long term help they need.

“Once you establish a trusting relationship a treatment plan can be developed and other supports and services,” said Milstein. “People may need a job. They need a place to live.”

The mayor has included $200,000 in his budget to hire and train three peer navigators with lived mental health experience.

“My plan is to have the police and navigators all train together,” said Milstein.

The state has crisis workers and a mental health mobile outreach unit which already works with New London Police. But the navigators are expected to continue to work with the person in crisis long after that crisis is over.

New London police who have had a Crisis Intervention Team Program in place for 20 years support the expansion of that program saying…

“The follow up component in the Navigator program is the key to its success and more importantly for the continued mental health care treatment of the individuals in need.”

The program could begin in the fall if funding is approved. 

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