UNION COUNTY, New Jersey (WABC) -- Police in one New Jersey county are hoping to better aid people experiencing a mental health crisis by expanding a program already being used.
The Union County Prosecutor's Office announced that New Jersey's highly regarded ARRIVE Together program, aimed at providing compassionate response during 911 calls involving a mental health crisis, has just been expanded to additional police departments in Union County.
ARRIVE means Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation.
The focus of the ARRIVE Together program is to provide people in crisis with whatever help they need as quickly and effectively as possible.
They do this by teaming up a police officer, specifically trained in crisis intervention, with a civilian certified mental health screener in order to respond to 911 calls relating to a mental health crisis.
The officer and crisis worker arrive together at the scene. Both are in plain clothes, and arrive at the call in an unmarked police vehicle. During the encounter, the mental health screener takes the lead.
Officials say this less-stressful approach both supports the individual facing a mental health crisis, and protects the responding officers.
Dana Melici is one of several mental health specialists who show up.
"We introduce ourselves, we are part of the ARRIVE Together team, we are here because people care about you, your community cares about you, I love that we are providing the care right when we get there, versus an officer waiting on scene for a screener or a screener arriving and needing to wait for the officer," Melici said.
Union County began its own crisis diversion program a decade ago.
"The numbers are generally that over 50% of the calls that police respond to that are mental health-related calls result in a use of force," said ARRIVE Together Liaison Tiffany Wilson.
The ARRIVE Together team also follows up on calls to make sure that the person is doing well and does not need additional mental health support.
"Heart is a core value of the program, as this program humanely gets to the heart of many of the difficulties of responding to calls involving a mental health crisis for both law enforcement and those in crisis" said Union County Prosecutor William A. Daniel.
Daniel said that, since its inception, it is extremely promising that there have been no injuries or escalations associated with any Union County ARRIVE Together calls.
Elizabeth and Linden Police Departments were the first to pilot the program in June 2022.
The Roselle Park Police Department launched this program in December 2022, followed by the current launch by the police departments in Clark, Cranford, Plainfield, Scotch Plains, and Westfield, along with the Union County Police Department and the Union County Sheriff's Office, in cooperation with the Union County Board of Commissioners.