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  • Jason Trundy

Waldo County Sheriff's Office to get its first Community Liaison

After its official start in June of 2018 the members of the Waldo County Recovery Committee (WCRC) were meeting faithfully each Monday morning. We had settled into a routine with each participant taking a few minutes to share what their agency was working on and how we might be able to help one another. Then we would spend time talking about ways we could collaborate to further our strategic goals. We were able to gain some early success by establishing our community support meeting, and the increased communication broke down barriers between organizations and began increasing collaboration on various projects. Although we found ways to work together to further all of our missions we often found ourselves struggling to identify funding sources for some of our ideas.

Our small group was fortunate to have a few skilled grant writers among us and those individuals would prove to be invaluable as we continued our work. One of our WCRC members, Seaport Community Health Center, operates under the umbrella of Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC), the State’s largest Federally Qualified Health Center.

In December of 2018 we received an email from an employee at PCHC notifying us that the organization wanted to partner with several of the other members of the WCRC to apply for a one million dollar Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) Implementation Grant. The grant would be awarded by the US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). We learned through follow up emails and conversations that if the grant was obtained the entire one million dollars would be used over a three year period to combat the opiate crisis in Waldo County. If successful PCHC would use some of the funds to expand treatment services provided at Seaport Community Health Center. The remaining funds would be passed through to organizations partnering in the grant application. The organizations include the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, Volunteers of America Northern New England, and the Restorative Justice Project of the Mid-Coast.

The application process for the grant was a long process but in early August of 2019 we received an email from PCHC stating that they had been notified that PCHC and its partners would be receiving a one million dollar HRSA grant. Everyone was excited and the work was just beginning.

When crafting the grant application each partner organization had to provide details about how we would utilize any funds we would receive. The many conversations we had at our WCRC meetings made it clear that we needed to think outside of the box when it came to how we would use this funding. My thoughts drifted to the Opioid Summit held this summer in Augusta. While attending the summit I was able to participate in a breakout session where Commissioner Mike Sauschuck and Oliver Bradeen spoke about Portland Maine Police Department’s Behavioral Health Response Program which is based on a comprehensive police-mental health collaboration. The Program which has been in existence for a number of years is listed as a national law enforcement–mental health learning site by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Commissioner Sauschuck served as the Chief of Police for the Portland Police Department during the developmental years of the program and Oliver Bradeen is employed as a crisis co-responder in the Behavioral Health Responder Program.

During the breakout session the two men explained the history behind the response program and the daily duties of Mr. Bradeen and the other crisis liaisons. The program consist of trained and experienced civilian behavioral health and substance use liaisons that co-respond with Portland police officers to the scene of calls that involve substance use, overdose, or mental health crisis. The crisis liaisons partner with law enforcement and assist with intervention, referral, advocacy, facilitation of services, and conduct follow-ups. I recall thinking during the presentation about how valuable this type of partnership would be for our community.

Law enforcement officers never know what type of call they will receive or what they will face when they arrive. Although law enforcement officers receive extensive training in the enforcement of criminal law they are often faced with a variety of situations and circumstances that are extremely complex and where arrest is an undesirable method to address the underlying social issues. Law enforcement personnel also frequently find themselves interacting with the same individuals around the same recurring issues such as homelessness, substance use, and mental health crisis. In recent years law enforcement officers across Maine have received specialized training such as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, Mental Health First Aid and other similar training programs to help them identify individuals that are in behavioral health crisis and to safely deescalate a situation. These training programs are extremely valuable and important for law enforcement officers to have as part of their training programs. In spite of this extensive training, uniformed law enforcement officers often find individuals reluctant to accept assistance. Undoubtedly, in these types of situation, having a trained and experience civilian community liaison available on scene, as a situation unfolds, will enhance the ability to respond in a meaningful way to the root cause of the situation.

When the word came that we received the grant our conversations kicked into high gear and with many details to be worked out the planning began. The Sheriff’s Office, Volunteers of America and the folks at PCHC began working out the details, crafting budgets and job descriptions and pulling together all the loose ends to make the Waldo County Community Liaison position come to life. Volunteers of America Northern New England is currently seeking application for the Waldo County Community Liaison position. If you or someone you know is interested in joining our team in this new and challenging position please follow the link, review the eligibility requirements and complete an application.

When I first heard about the Portland co-responder program I thought it would be highly unlikely that we could get such a program started in Waldo County. Now, just a few months later, we are taking the first steps to make this position a reality. We realize this position won’t enable us to resolve every situation or problem we encounter moving forward, but we do believe it’s our responsibility to utilize every available resource to provide professional and compassionate law enforcement services to the citizens of Waldo County.

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