The Lockport Police Department will be among the first police departments in the state to test a collaboration with mental health officials that will allow videoconferencing with police supervisors who are on the scene of an incident.
LPD and the Niagara County Department of Mental Health are working with the Institute for Police, Mental Health & Community Collaboration on a new program that is giving three LPD lieutenants iPads equipped with Zoom, a video conferencing application. The Department of Mental Health has also been given three iPads as well to allow them to video conference with the lieutenants.
The state Senate has provided the funding for the organizations to pilot this program.
On Friday, LPD became the first police agency in the state to use the program. Three LPD lieutenants were trained on Tuesday with the iPads.
Don Kamin, the director of the Institute for Police, Mental Health & Community Collaboration, said his organization was formed in 2015 with the goal of helping the New York State Office of Mental Health implement crisis intervention team programs across the state.
Kamin added that with CIT the two main goals are to transform the crisis response system to minimize the times that law enforcement are the first responders to citizens or residents in emotional distress, and to ensure that when police are the first responders that they have the skills, resources, support and knowledge to recognize what they are dealing with and be able to deescalate it in some way if they can.
Kamin said that in about two to three months they will assess how the program is doing and see if they would like to expand it to more LPD officers.
Kamin said other places in the country have this kind of program, and that they have found success with their experiences.
"One of the things that comes up is you're looking at an iPad and thinking somebody who is in such emotional distress are they really going to want to or be able to relate to somebody who is not there through an iPad. Particularly somebody who is in such distress that may have some difficulties staying in reality," Kamin said. "The experience at these other places has shown that even folks that are in that amount of distress are able for the most part able to relate, and be able to utilize the technology in a real helpful way."
Ontario, Wayne and Broome counties will also be testing the program, Kamin added.
Laura Kelemen, director of the Niagara County Department of Mental Health, said one of the things her office is always concerned about is being able to respond to mental health incident in a timely manner to assist law enforcement, and that it could take up to 45 minutes for someone from her office to be on the scene because the office is in Niagara Falls.
"Having the iPad will allow us within five or 10 minutes to begin a Zoom session to essentially be on the scene to provide a mental health evaluation," she added.
She thinks the program is a "great effective use of technology" to provide immediate assistance that they traditionally have not been able to.
LPD Lieutenant Matthew Streckewald said he thinks the program will help in situations where someone might not trust law enforcement.
"There is just certain situations where people sometimes view law enforcement with a negative light and we understand that," he said "Some people will be more willing to talk, calm down with someone that is a mental health professional. Also, they have a lot more resources than we do."
State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda said the program is a "win-win" for law enforcement and the communities.
"Not only will this technology make future encounters safer for officers but also for individuals who may be suffering from mental health issues," he said.