Help not handcuffs: Clinicians with the Providence Police Department share tactics used to help curb mental health crisis

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Responding to robberies, homicides and accidents are common for police officers. But, with an overwhelming number of calls for crisis intervention and victims of trauma, local law enforcement recognize mental health calls may not be in their wheelhouse.

Providence police officers respond to nearly 600 mental health calls a year. The department has worked to combat that by adding clinicians to their team nearly two decades ago.

“They have access to resources that police officers do not,” said Cmrd. Thomas Verdi when speaking about the department’s clinicians. “It’s so effective and it’s so needed.”

Rachel Armada has worked as a clinical social worker with the Providence Center since 2018. In 2020, Armada became an Emergency Services Clinician with the Providence Police Department.

“I will go to the calls they’re [officers] regularly dispatched to. They will take me to calls throughout the city whenever somebody is in a mental health crisis and police are asked to respond,” Armada told ABC 6 News.

Verdi highlighted the dangers of responding to these calls that can occasionally turn lethal in moments.

“That’s why we call them here triage teams. It’s police department, Providence Center via clinicians, and Family Services,” he explained. “Along with other partners and stakeholders working together to deal with those that truly need help. And that’s the strategy. That is the goal.”

The deputy chief told ABC 6 about a recent incident where a clinician responded to a mental health crisis with officers.

“There was an incident, a friend called regarding his friends bizarre, bizarre behavior,” the commander recounted.

The adult man was in the midst of a mental health crisis, and had recently bought a firearm, according to the friend. Police officers paired with a clinician rushed to the scene, and worked together to calm the man down.

“The clinician, along with our police officers said all the right things,” said Verdi. “And then that individual was committed. He volunteered to seek treatment.”

Armada said productive conversations often come from responding to these calls with officers. She said it gives the clinician as well as the officer, a chance to discuss what happened and how to approach similar calls in the future.

“We can kind of discuss like, what that looked like, and why things were the way they were in terms of mental health,” Armada said.

Armada said it’s hard to predict crisis but she’s gone on as many as five or six calls for crisis intervention in a single day. She told ABC 6 she assesses each individual to determine the best proper care for them.

“Sometimes a person is in what we consider a mental health crisis and they may need an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization,” she explained.  “So, when that happens, I work on getting them to that level of care.”

“And then other times, you know, somebody may really benefit from a follow up from a therapist or case manager and at that point, I’m able to connect them to that.”

Another resource the department utilizes is Family Services of Rhode Island.

Rachel Caruso is a FSRI Police Go Team member. The organization is used to help victims and witnesses of trauma by listening and easing the pain of what occurred.

“Getting the opportunity to come and work directly with law enforcement was a really interesting opportunity and a unique one,” she said.

Caruso often works with victims and witnesses at the scene of a tragedy with police. Those calls mainly consist of domestics, sexual assaults, child molestation and sex trafficking cases, and drug busts, especially when children are present.

“We get the kids out of the house so they don’t have to see that type of traumatic event,” Caruso said.

“This Go Team model really follows these victims through their entire process and that that’s what makes it so incredibly different,” Caruso explained.

Their work doesn’t stop at the crime scene. The clinicians follow up and continue to support victims and mental health patients months and even years after the fact.

Caruso told ABC 6 she often attends court with those who need the support, or helps find proper childcare in situations where children and their families need the resources.

“I think there’s a lot of power in just having somebody in your corner. So, that’s what we’re trying to be with these kids. And these victims,” Caruso explained.

Verdi told ABC 6 that the true purpose of the community-based response team is not about incarceration, nor should it be. It’s about proper treatment and getting help to those who need it, all while preventing a potentially deadly situation from happening.

Categories: News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island