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Posted on: June 22, 2020

Spotlight Series: Mental Health Response

Spotlight Series

The following post is the first of our new “Spotlight Series”, designed to provide insight into some of the many different aspects of our department.

Last week, Fitchburg Police officers responded to a west side neighborhood for a call of a man who was yelling at neighbors. The caller had witnessed the man in an argument with another person prior to him yelling at neighbors which prompted a call to 911. Officers arrived on scene to find the man standing partially dressed in the middle of the street, still agitated and distraught.

For nearly forty-five minutes, officers engaged in dialogue with the man from a distance and attempted to work with him to find different types of assistance allowing for a resolution of the incident. During the course of the conversation, the man admitted to being under the influence of a controlled substance, confirming the likely cause of some of the behaviors officers observed. Officers continued to remain calm and deescalate the situation while they worked to determine a resolution.

During a pause in their interaction, while officers were working toward a resolution, the man stripped his remaining clothes off and stood nude in the street. Recognizing the man was possibly also experiencing a medical and mental health crisis known as excited delirium, officers summoned emergency medical assistance to standby.  Officers began speaking with the man again in an attempt to get him to comply with their requests so he could be taken into protective custody.  The man asked officers to arrest him but then resisted officers’ efforts to take him into custody.

A few moments later, officers were able to place the man into protective custody. Paramedics, who were waiting nearby, were able to quickly begin a medical assessment and provide care. The man was taken by EMS to a local hospital for additional care.

We are sharing this synopsis because members of our community were involved in this incident, some of whom were understandably frightened by the man’s words and actions. Other members of our community may have witnessed portions of the incident without any context or understanding of what was occurring. We are also sharing this incident to highlight some aspects of our response to issues involving mental health.

With a high volume of mental health related calls for service, a significant amount of work has been completed by members of our department to address concerns related to mental health and members of our community. This work has resulted from the recognition that while we are not trained mental health providers, we are often the first, and sometimes only, responders to those experiencing acute or long-term mental health issues. As such, we have made significant efforts to acquire training, implement structural and procedural changes, and partner with community service providers. Highlights of these efforts include:

  • Nearly 30% of our sworn personnel have completed a weeklong program in crisis intervention taught by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Personnel who have completed this training comprise our department’s Crisis Intervention Team. Fitchburg is one of 2,700 communities nationwide to have such a team which focuses on developing relationships with those most in need of mental health services.
  • We have incorporated best practices for mental health crisis response into our training curriculum to be utilized in every interaction. The emphasis of these practices includes using time and distance to deescalate a situation. Slowing situations down and increasing the distance between officers and involved persons can provide for more alternative options to the use of force, or minimally, alternative use of force options.

This incident also highlights the partnership of our community in co-producing public safety in Fitchburg. Our response started with a concerned citizen, who called 911 to report specific concerning behaviors from a person who likely needed help, which led to police response and ended with emergency medical response.

One of our roles in the production of public safety in Fitchburg is to inform those we serve. We have long sought to share information on crime trends and crime prevention. This post is the beginning of additional posts designed to highlight the work we do, and have done over the last few years, to improve our service to the community, along with the “why” behind it.

As we look forward to further improvements and enhancements to our department and our service, we are also seeking more opportunities to listen and learn from those we serve. Co-Producing public safety in our community must be a team effort, accomplished through collaboration, mutual understanding, and respect.  

In closing, we want to take this opportunity to recognize our personnel who responded to, and professionally handled, last week’s  incident. The personnel involved exemplified our expectations of service and the components of our response to those experiencing a crisis.   

Thank you for your time to learn a bit more about us. We look forward to sharing and learning more in the future.



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