The Westbrook Police Department has hired its first mental health liaison, a position advocates and police say is much needed and has the potential to be life-saving.

Jo Freedman, previously the on-staff mental health clinician for the Portland Police Department, has followed up on more than half a dozen cases and responded to calls with police since starting in Westbrook on Sept. 7, according to Captain Steve Goldberg.

Through her work in Portland, Freedman has worked collaboratively with the Westbrook department in the past.

“She brings with us a wealth of experience in dealing with mental health issues in the community,” Goldberg said. “She is already working with officers on calls and is working with various mental health service providers to ensure that people are receiving the proper mental health services they need.”

She also working on training sessions for police and other public safety staff, he said.

Freedman was not available for comment by American Journal’s deadline.

Out of a total of about 32,500 calls in 2020, the Westbrook Police Department responded to 107 mental health calls, 38 more than 2019; 144 suicide threats or attempts, 37 more than 2019; and 87 overdose calls with five fatal, 38 more overdoses and two more fatal overdoses than 2019, Police Chief Sean Lally said.

“Having a mental health responder would allow us to parcel out who’s best fit for what situation,” Westbrook Community Policing Coordinator Megan Perry previously told the American Journal. “It’d allow for more individualized and specialized work.”

Westbrook police receive crisis and de-escalation training, Lally has said, but they do not have the mental health training and expertise that a mental health liaison brings to the job. Yet, they have become the catch-all for mental health calls in an overburdened system.

“I think you’ll get a better outcome if you use a mental health practitioner at a crisis,” Lally said. “If you have someone with that skill set, training and experience, why wouldn’t you want to send them to that call?”

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