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Smyrna police add mental health pro to patrols

Karl Malgiero/Delaware Public Media

The Smyrna Police Department recently added a mental health professional to its patrol unit.

Jim Deel is a mental health clinician with Connections Community Support Program and a local minister. His new part-time job is to ride along with Smyrna police officers and connect citizens with the mental health services they may need—sometimes as an alternative to being arrested.

“One thing that really makes this program key is the officer’s willingness to be open, and to consider new ways of doing things,” said Deel. “I don’t have to force my way into anything at all. They more or less are agreeable to help me work for an individual’s benefits.”

Smyrna Police Captain Torrie James says before Deel started officers would often have to drive citizens to the hospital in Dover if they wanted a mental health evaluation performed.

“When Jim is there with us, he is able to do the assessment right there for us,” said James.

James adds Deel was recently instrumental in connecting an individual with a long arrest record to mental health treatment.

“Normally his interaction with us has always been an arrest but now we’re able to offer other resources to help him,” said James.

Connections started a similar mental health pilot program with the New Castle County Police Department this spring. Both programs were spearheaded by Connections Director of Criminal Justice and Community Partnerships Amy Kevis.

“We’re asking police to combat the opioid crisis—which is a public health emergency—with arrests. And it sounds cliché, but we can’t arrest our way out of this. We need to look at more appropriate forms of assistance and arrest just isn’t the best one,” said Kevis.

The Smyrna-Connections partnership is a six-month pilot funded by a federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation grant funneled through the Delaware Center for Health Innovation’s Healthy Neighborhood Initiative.