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Dover police latest to consider putting mental and behavioral health pros on patrol

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Dover Police are the latest to look into bringing behavioral health clinicians along in police cars.

The Dover Police Department is developing a program which would leverage licensed clinical social workers to help police respond to calls involving mental health issues or substance abuse.

Dover Police Chief Tom Johnson says his staff is still working out what the program will look like and how it will be funded. But he believes mental and behavioral health experts are needed. 

“We're not experts,” he said. “Sometimes you need someone with that extra amount of training and experience in certain circumstances.”

Johnson also admits the criminal justice system is not always the cure. He says treatment and other resources are sometimes more effective than arrest. 

Christian Kervick is executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, which helps police departments fund Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs. These programs leverage behavioral health clinicians to help those with substance abuse or mental health issues.  

Kervick says a handful of police agencies in Delaware have them. For example, the New Castle County Police Department’s HERO HELP program offers treatment, instead of arrest, for eligible people dealing with addiction. 


“We know from experience that it’s just easier to get people out of the system early on,” said Kervick. “If we can identify those people who need help instead of being arrested and incarcerated, then it’s to our benefit.”


Johnson looks to do something similar to the partnership with Connections the Smyrna Police Department launched in 2018, but for a larger jurisdiction. 

Johnson says the program his agency is developing will focus on diffusing crisis situations, prevention, and follow-up. 

Johnson wants the program to be sustainable, and says it will likely start small and expand later. He hopes to have a “shovel-ready” plan by mid-summer.

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