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February 11, 2013

Police partnership gets the mentally ill the help they need

DANVERS — The caller to Middleton police was reporting he’d found a human hand in a vehicle, and responding officers knew something other than a crime was up.

By coincidence, that same afternoon, Middleton police had met with the Danvers Police Department’s new mental health clinician, Danielle Csogi.

“An hour later, she was back at our police station,” said Middleton police Chief James DiGianvittorio, “dealing with a suicidal individual who had some serious mental issues. She was able to get him into a hospital, because we had no other means to deal with that person.”

That’s exactly the goal of the new Danvers Police Jail Diversion Program: keeping people with mental illnesses out of jail, out of the tangled criminal justice system and out of the emergency room, all of which are poorly equipped to handle them, said police Chief Neil Ouellette, who came up with the idea.

The program, which started in September, is funded by grants from the state Department of Mental Health and the private Evelyn Lilly Lutz Foundation, a subsidiary of Beverly Hospital. Csogi, who has 15 years of experience as a crisis worker, works three days a week, and a Lahey Health Behavioral Services mobile crisis team is available at other times.

The program is a regional effort spearheaded by Danvers police and shared with the Middleton and Topsfield departments. Part of the reason for the program is that the Danvers department has seen a spike in mental health calls.

Police responded to 101 mental health calls during the first eight months of 2010. During the same eight months in 2011, there were 124 calls, and during the same period last year, there were 166 calls. They ranged from people who were bipolar or suffering from dementia, to those who were suicidal or depressed or had attempted suicide.

Csogi sometimes responds to mental health calls along with officers. Other times, she works the phones, making follow-up calls to those with emotional or substance abuse problems or those with developmental disabilities or behavioral issues that officers encounter. She also works the phones to find those in crisis with the right kinds of treatment.

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