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Here is a free sample from the book Stigma and Recovery.
Chapter One: Mental Illness and Recovery
Imagine beaches of gold, tan lines, and rocky coastlines. You are in the Kennebunks, three closely linked seacoast communities in Maine (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel) often cited as premier vacation and beach destinations for vacationers.
Gooch’s Beach, a place where dogs go to see and be seen, as well as Mother’s Beach where divers and surfers go to take on the big waves, are popular spots for New Englanders and others from as far away as California and Colorado.
Then imagine something out of the ordinary; a Kennebunk police car speeding up to the parking lot of Gooch’s Beach to help a desperate man in his 20s who needs attention.
The man, a local by the name of Don Williams, is frantic, anxiety high, and on a substance, he cannot control. This man is also suffering from schizophrenia.
Police Chief Robert Mackenzie has seen his share of crises in his jurisdiction and as the number of crises continues to rise, the police are continually called upon to act and act quickly.
“Calls about mental health crises are relatively common,” Mackenzie said. “And the number seems to have increased due to COVID-19, an epidemic that places more stress on people. They must adjust to a new reality.”
“I have worked in law enforcement for 34 years and my goal has always been to reduce repeat calls for people suffering from substance abuse and mental illnesses. Many are repeatedly in crisis, and we cannot handle the flow,” MacKenzie said.
The police department currently has 24 full-time officers, 6 part-time reserve officers, a full-time Animal Control Officer, and 2 administrative clerks. Kennebunk has also been rated as “one of the safest towns in Maine.” In 2020, Kennebunk has been rated the safest town in York County, and the 8th safest town in Maine, based on ratings for overall crime rates, violent crime, and property crime. [i]
However, there remain the underlying problems of mental health and substance abuse crises that often go unnoticed by the tourist or the summer resident of Kennebunk, a community of 12,000 year-round residents that grows in population with the summer tourist season.
“Calls come to us, and it escalates to the point where we must act. Many crises are confrontational with people in mental health crises,” he said. “Police are called to be social workers, but we are not trained in social work. We don’t have the time to follow up with the people experiencing mental health and substance abuse disorders.”
The town of Kennebunk has taken this issue to heart and has set aside money for the police department to hire a behavioral health liaison. The police department has also partnered with the University of New England Medical School’s internship program hiring two interns to correspond with the police department’s officers.
It is 3 a.m. Friday morning.
A call comes in from dispatch about a suicidal woman walking the streets. She had just come from a local bar after closing hours.
Rachel Schlein is woken from her sleep. It’s a bad one, she is told.
Schlein, employed as the Behavioral Health Liaison for the Kennebunk Police Department, is a licensed clinical social worker in mental health and chemical dependency.
“I have three priorities. Corresponding to calls with the different officers; following up on the calls like providing substance use or domestic violence resources, and supporting officer wellness in the department by managing their stress and anxiety,” Schlein said.
An average call response time is between 5 to 8 minutes, but less time (2-5 minutes) for emergency calls. Call response is evaluated annually to ensure staffing is adequate to serve the growing number of households, and for the expected uptick in seasonal activity.[ii]
Under a lamppost, Schlein meets up with the officers on duty who are trying to de-escalate the situation with the young lady who appears disorientated. Schlein notices she is also carrying in her cupped hands a large sharp kitchen knife she took from somewhere.
“The officers have a lot of training in de-escalating conflicts but having someone trained in mental health and chemical dependency is different. A big advantage is following up and having ongoing support for the person,” she said. “I think a lot of it is to get people safely and securely from a crisis, so they are safe. We achieve this through strong leadership, education, empathy, and respect.”
It could have ended differently, but with the help of Schlein and the officers, the lady was eventually placed out of harm’s way and transported to the regional hospital for treatment. Schlein’s duty will be to follow up with the woman to ensure her safety.
A 2017 study in Behavioral Sciences & the Law estimated that six to 10 percent of all police contacts with the public in the U.S. involve persons with serious mental illnesses with an equal likelihood of arrests. Given jail time the study estimated that 14 percent of all incarcerations were of people with mental illnesses, 14.5 percent men and 31 percent women.
At least one in four mentally ill individuals is fatally shot by police in any given year. [iii]
Schlein said the department does not have enough data to support it, but she claims having behavior health workers in police departments is helpful by providing more access to mental health support both for the police officer and the victim.
She supports officers’ mental health and wellness through ongoing, informal support, wellness check-ins, and providing healthy snacks, fitness, and exercise incentives.
“There can be a lot of stress. But this is the right fit for me. This is something I really want to do,” Schein said.
[i] 2022 Comprehensive Plan Town of Kennebunk Plan Adopted June 14, 2022. Final-Kennebunk-Comprehensive-Plan—6-14-2022 (kennebunkmaine.us)
[ii] 2022 Comprehensive Plan Town of Kennebunk Plan Adopted June 14, 2022. Final-Kennebunk-Comprehensive-Plan—6-14-2022 (kennebunkmaine.us)
[iii] Watson AC, Wood JD. Everyday police work during mental health encounters: A study of call resolution
in Chicago and their implications for diversion. Behav Sci Law. 2017 Sep;35(5-6):442-455. doi: 10.1002/bsl.2324. Epub 2017 Nov 20. PMID: 29159822; PMCID: PMC6295210.