Walpole Shooting Renews Questions About Police Role In Mental Health Crises | Local news

As authorities withhold more details, pending an investigation, into what prompted an NH State soldier to shoot and injure someone in Walpole earlier this month, the incident is raising news questions about law enforcement’s ability to safely respond to mental health emergencies.

Private Zachary Bernier shot 26-year-old Jacob Gasbarro outside a County Road house on December 4, shortly after responding to the property for a report that Gasbarro was acting suicidal, according to the NH Attorney General’s office. .

Attorney General John M. Formella said Gasbarro was hospitalized with a gunshot wound he sustained during a brief confrontation with Bernier and Walpole Police Officer Dean Wright. Wright did not shoot his gun, according to Formella.

State officials declined to say what led Bernier to shoot Gasbarro three minutes after police arrived at the residence at 800 County Road. It is not clear if Gasbarro had a weapon at the time.

While the details of this incident remain unclear, a 2019 report from InDepthNH.org found that in nearly half of the police shootings in New Hampshire over the past three decades, the person who was shot had a history documented mental illness – well above the national average level of about 25 percent.

A growing number of state soldiers have been trained to assist a person in a mental health crisis, a protocol that includes connecting that person with a professional clinician, according to Russell Conte, the coordinator of mental health and mental health. well-being of the agency.

Conte, a retired NH State Police major, said about 100 officers – about a third of the force – had received Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training since it became available in 2019. Soldiers previously had “minimal training” in mental health, he said on Wednesday, although much of their job is dealing with issues, such as mental health disorders. ‘substance use and domestic violence, often linked to psychiatric problems.

“We knew as an organization… that there was a need because of the number of people in crisis,” he said.

The 40-hour CIT training is not required for state soldiers, according to Conte, who said officers are referred to the program by their supervisors. Other New Hampshire first responders – including local police, firefighters and paramedics – are also starting to take the course.

“Everyone’s going to be that person, day or night, who’s going to make one of those calls,” he said. “… If we are to provide services to families that I think they deserve, we have to have these skills. “

As part of the CIT program, soldiers are trained to identify and defuse mental health crises, Conte said. This includes connecting the person in distress with a professional clinician at one of the state’s 10 community mental health centers, either for an in-person assessment or for a telehealth session, he said. declared. In extreme cases, Conte said state police are trained to refer a person to compulsory hospitalization.

“There are a lot of times you can go on a stage [and] it has not escalated to a point where force has to be used, ”he said.

Geoffrey WR Ward, the state’s senior assistant attorney general, declined to comment on Friday whether Bernier had received CIT training.

State police hope to eventually provide all officers with that instruction, according to Conte, who said it would “minimize those incidents that occur when the outcome is harmful to the person,” his family and the police.

But efforts are underway in New Hampshire to reduce interactions between law enforcement and people with mental illness.

A bill recently introduced to the NHL Legislature would establish a committee to study the role of mental health in police use of force incidents. The legislation would also provide nearly $ 4 million to reimburse local police departments for registering their officers for CIT training.

Mental health centers based in Concord, Manchester and Nashua have also in recent years started sending clinicians to defuse psychiatric crises – in some cases accompanying or replacing the police at the scene.

This model, which data shows helped reduce mental illness hospitalizations, is the basis of a plan to make similar emergency resources available statewide. Part of a package of laws passed two years ago to expand mental health services, mobile crisis response teams received a boost in June when NH’s Executive Council approved $ 52 million. dollars for the 10 community providers.

Conte, the mental health and wellness coordinator for NH State Police, said mobile crisis response units will help provide even better care for people with mental illness. And as the state prepares to roll out a new 988 mental health crisis hotline in July, Conte said professional clinicians will often be sent directly to those calls, saving the police from asking. her help when she goes to the scene.

“By the time you get there, it’s a lot more of a team effort,” he said. “And that pushes people to a much better outcome. It will save lives. It’s already done.

But it’s unclear how quickly crisis response teams will be available for emergencies in rural areas and at odd times, like the call that preceded the County Road shooting.

Due to the small staff, Monadnock Family Services in Keene – the Monadnock area mental health center – will initially only be able to provide daytime mobile units, according to CEO Phil Wyzik.

MFS, which administers emergency psychiatric care and operates a 24/7 hotline, would need around 10 full-time workers to offer the 24-hour crisis response teams, Wyzik said, because the state’s contract for this service requires two people to respond to each emergency. On Friday, he said the nonprofit only had about a third of the people needed to fully staff these mobile units when they launch next month.

“There are still a lot of concerns about the workforce that has to do this job,” he said.

Wyzik declined to say if MFS had been contacted to help with the County Road incident, citing the organization’s privacy policy.

In other states with psychiatric crisis helplines, he said a large majority of calls are resolved over the phone. But for emergencies requiring in-person response, Wyzik said it was too early to know how clinicians and law enforcement would work together.

“I think we’re going to be in the discovery phase of that to see how it really goes,” he said.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental illness, Monadnock Family Services offers 24/7 care at 357-4400 and personalized counseling at its offices across the region. Professional clinicians will be available, starting in January, through the state’s Rapid Response Access Point service at 833-710-6477 and through the 988 statewide hotline from July.


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