BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Across the country, police departments are undergoing training, looking for new ways to best respond to mental health situations and calls.
In Buffalo, members of the Buffalo Police Behavioral Health Team are on the streets everyday doing this work.
“The police officer has a role and the clinician has a role,” said Captain Amber Beyer who leads the Behavioral Health Team.
The team was created in October 2020 with a goal of identifying potential mental health concerns and getting patients the appropriate care. They respond to active, in-crisis 911 calls, and preform follow-up visits with those who need it most.
Captain Beyer says BPD receives an average of 7,000-8,000 mental health calls per year. She believes that number is actually much higher.
“As we know there are some calls that come out as a domestic disturbance,” she said.
The team is made up of six Buffalo Police Officers, two Lieutenants and three Endeavor Health Clinicians.
Although the Buffalo Police Department has 140 officers trained in crisis intervention, this team of professionals works directly with clinicians, and each feed off each other.
“To send a mental health clinician without law enforcement, things can shift very rapidly,” said Sarah Bonk who is the program manager for the BHT. “Mental health can be very fluid and the potential exists.”
Bonk says the BHT has a response time of 14 minutes for an in-crisis call. She says most of the calls are between noon and 3:00 p.m. According to Bonk, the BHT has been able to divert a patient from jail on 201 occasions since October.
“Most important is the report that’s able to be built,” she said.
According to BPD, the team has had to use force twice. Once using a bolo-wrap device to restrain a person with a scissors from causing harm to themselves or others.
The work doesn’t stop after the initial call. A big part of BHT’s work are the in-person follow-up calls. Here, connecting a patient to further care and providing an extra ear to listen is paramount.
“It’s near and dear to my heart, and I think as we talk about mental illness a lot more, people are struggling or know someone who is struggling,” Beyer said.
The Buffalo Police Behavioral Health Team can be reached here.