News Feature

Hancock County
Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 3, 2017 and Island Ad-Vantages, August 3, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, August 3, 2017
Sedgwick social worker partners with law enforcement
Crisis Intervention Team training new to Hancock County

Service cooperation

From left, Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross and Arrostook County Mental Health Center crisis supervisor Ashley Pesak work together in the field after completing crisis intervention training last year.

Photo courtesy of Aroostook Mental Health Center

by Anne Berleant

Changing how law enforcement and individuals with mental health issues interact in moments of crisis was the goal behind Crisis Intervention Team training, offered for the first time in Hancock County last year. After the one-week training, local officers then partnered with Sedgwick resident Ashley Pesek, Emergency Services Supervisor with Aroostook Mental Health Center, to bring different outcomes to volatile situations.

“It was personally one of the best trainings that I have taken over the course of my 14-year law enforcement career,” said Corporal Christopher Smith, who serves with Maine State Police Troop J in Ellsworth.

The training also opened a door for services that someone in need might otherwise miss out on.

“Law enforcement ends up interacting with people with mental health issues just by the nature of what they do,” Pesek said. “But if we can capture people upstream, we can help them get services before they’re rock bottom.”

Smith took his CIT training onto the streets, including an incident involving a young man with autism.

“I simply waited him out and attempted to talk about anything and everything until I found something he latched on to,” Smith said, and eventually engaged the young man in a conversation about potato chips.

Using tools from the training may take more time than simply bringing someone into the county jail. But while Smith said it took about an hour to engage the young man, the outcome was significant, according to Pesek, because the young man became open to mental health services available to him.

“This was the first time [the young man] had had a positive interaction with law enforcement,” she said. “We took someone who might continue to have interactions with law enforcement and changed the story.”

Smith and Hancock County Sheriff’s deputy Luke Gross, who also went through CIT training, will contact Pesek for on-the-spot crisis assistance, she said.

“We work as a partnership. We’ll go out to people’s homes. There’s things we’re not able to do alone but we can do together.”

There are strict legal standards law enforcement officers must follow in order to bring someone to a hospital against their will, namely that there’s a risk of harm to the individual or others. But the CIT partnership can help an individual who doesn’t meet that criteria.

One example is when Pesek answered a request by Deputy Gross to talk with someone having a psychotic episode in a public place. Working as a team produced results.

“Together we were able to persuade him to go to the hospital,” she said. “It wasn’t going to happen if it was just one of us alone.”

The training has changed how Smith reacts in certain situations “by slowing things down and looking at the incident from all possible angles,” he said. And “reaching out to AMHC” helps provide “the best solution available to the individual.”

Pesek said a second training in Hancock County will be held later this year or early in 2018. The Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nonprofit, membership-based mental health organization, provides the training.