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November 30, 2021

NJ State Police piloting new first responder program with mental health experts

ARRIVE will go through a trial run in Bridgeton and Port Norris in Cumberland County

Crime Mental Health
11 30 2021 Police.png Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

As part of a pilot program, New Jersey State Police troopers at two stations in Cumberland County will be paired with mental health experts.

New Jersey State Police troopers in Cumberland County will be paired with mental health experts as part of a new pilot program to help law enforcement minimize use of force incidents against those going through behavioral health crises statewide.

Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck debuted the program titled ARRIVE, which stands for "Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation," on Tuesday.

It will begin at state police posts in Bridgeton and Port Norris, both in Cumberland County, and will expand to the rest of the county and state if successful.

On 911 calls when troopers are likely dealing with a mentally ill person, plainclothes officers will be accompanied by certified mental health screeners who are already on the state's payroll at the Cumberland County Guidance Center. Those calls include confused or disoriented persons, welfare checks and suicide watches.

The mental health clinician will take the lead in these instances, but will only be able to leave the vehicle once the trooper deems the situation safe for them.

The program is meant to change the way police respond to mental health crises, officials say. Statewide, the attorney general's office calculated that two out of three times an officer uses force against a civilian, that civilian is mentally ill.

“In modern times, we ask law enforcement officers to undertake roles they never expected when choosing to serve—marriage counselor, addiction specialist, social worker," Bruck said in a statement. "Increasingly, officers are asked to act like doctors and psychiatrists, determining what drug a person may have taken, or what mental health condition they may be experiencing,”

He said it's important that New Jersey residents in the midst of mental health crises are treated with compassion and connected with professionals who can help them properly rather than the criminal justice system.

The Rutgers University School of Public Health will assess the pilot program and provide an evaluation which will inform the next steps for ARRIVE.

New Jersey's new program is far from revolutionary.

The police department in Eugene, Oregon, implemented a similar program back in 1989 which today handles a fifth of the city's 911 calls today and saves it $2 million a year.

More recently, the Smyrna and Georgetown police departments, both of which are in Delaware, have had comparable programs since 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests which cropped up across the nation in 2020 and controversial local police shootings like the death of Brandon Roberts, other Delaware municipalities including New Castle County and Milford have moved to implement similar programs.