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Sheriff’s deputies to play a role in mental health care in Ontario County

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Ontario County Sheriff
Ontario County Sheriff Deputy Jim Baker simulates a call to Rochester Regional Health's Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation Program using an iPad as part of a pilot program to connect people in crisis to mental health professionals.

The Ontario County Sheriff’s Office has begun a new effort to connect people in mental health crisis with a team of professionals at Rochester Regional Health.

Deputies on a crisis intervention team will use iPads to make video calls to the Rochester Regional clinicians as part of a pilot program overseen by the state Office of Mental Health. 

“Law enforcement’s changing,” said Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson. “It’s not just about getting criminals in jail.” 

Henderson said his deputies are responding to an ever-increasing number of calls related to mental health crises. “It’s a big, big part of what we do,” he said. 

Federal law enforcement officials have been noticing this trend, too. 

“Increasingly, officers are called on to be the first -- and often the only -- responders to calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis,” ajoint report by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Council of State Governments found earlier this year. 

“Police departments can’t do it alone,” that report noted.

The quicker a person in a mental health crisis receives a response from a mental health professional, the better, said Don Kamin, who is the lead consultant on the pilot program for the state mental health office.

The iPad provides a way for law enforcement officers to quickly hand off a case to those professionals, Kamin said.

The Ontario County pilot program is one of four in the state that are testing the effectiveness of connecting law enforcement officers with mental health workers.

“Mental health issues affect every part of the state,” Sheriff Henderson said.

Still, he acknowledged the potential limitations of the program. It relies on law enforcement officers to recognize a complex set of symptoms, and it cannot replace in-person counseling.

“We’re going to be brutally honest,” Henderson said. “If it doesn’t work, we need to know that.”

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