Several Island police departments and first responders took part in a mental health first aid training course in Oak Bluffs last week.
Officers completed training with Martha’s Vineyard coordinator Lisa Belcastro of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Cape & Islands. Officers took classes such as “Mental Health First Aid” and “Crisis Intervention Team.”
Police officers from Aquinnah, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown all took the training. EMTs, nurses, doctors, officials of the Dukes County jail, and members of the Houses of Grace also took part.
In a conversation with The Times, Belcastro said the turnout for the classes was excellent, and more will be offered on the Island because West Tisbury Police Sgt. Matthew Gebo is now certified to teach the course. The course is offered to anyone on-Island, with preference given to first responders.
Edgartown received a certificate from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) for completing a pledge to improve police response to people suffering from mental illness.
The pledge is part of the IACP’s One Mind Campaign. To join the campaign, law enforcement agencies have to pledge to implement several good practices in a one- to three-year period.
The Edgartown Police sent 15 officers to the training, and have since implemented new policies on how to deal with those suffering from mental illness, and, while not part of the pledge, are now offering post-incident services to people suffering from addiction issues. There are also plans to create an advanced domestic violence response plan within the town.
“Increasingly, officers around the country are being called to deal with individuals suffering from a variety of mental illnesses far more often than ever before. It is our sincere hope that through initiatives like these, we can better aid those in need within Edgartown, while at the same time improving the public’s trust in us, ensuring officer safety, and hopefully saving some lives,” Chief Bruce McNamee said in a press release about the training.
Edgartown now joins the Aquinnah Police Department and fewer than 500 other police agencies in the United States, Canada, Morocco, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have completed the pledge.