Rachel Schlein is Kennebunk Police Department’s behavioral health liaison. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – A police car rolls up in the driveway and an officer gets out, accompanied by someone who is not wearing a uniform.

That someone is Rachel Schlein, and If the situation appears if an additional supportive voice is needed, Schlein is on the spot, listening and dispensing referrals to those who can help with substance use, mental health matters and an array of related issues.

Schlein, 38, is Kennebunk Police Department’s behavioral health liaison. She works for Sweetser and is contracted to the department on a part-time basis.

“I was looking for a position exactly like this,” said Schlein, a social worker who had her own practice for a decade. “I like the community aspects of the job.”

Schlein sees folks whose situation might involve a lack of adequate housing, substance misuse, those in a domestic violence situation, or someone having thoughts of self-harm.

And there is more. She could be calling on someone who is struggling with parenting and may or may not be in a crisis situation, or an elderly or homebound resident feeling isolated, or more isolated than usual during the pandemic.


It is a matter of seeing what people need, offering resources and being a supportive listener, she said.

That, said Police Chief Robert MacKenzie, as an example, can mean following up with victims of domestic violence cases, beyond the follow-up officers already do.

“We do our best, but having someone with the skill in the field can have a better connection,” said MacKenzie.

Schlein often rides along with officers on cases that there is no arrest, but when intervention may be welcomed, either on the spot, or later, when the individual is ready.

MacKenzie said not only is having Schlein on hand to connect with people who could use some help a boon to the department, her presence is welcomed by officers, particularly in a crisis situation.

“You need a master of the skill set officers can depend on, being there,” he said.


MacKenzie said the department had started a program some time ago, and more recently, an intern from the University of New England in their final year of study, worked with the department for a semester.

“When that (program) was up, we sensed a loss,” said MacKenzie. He said one individual the intern had worked with was familiar to police, who had been called to assist the person many times. The social worker was able to secure help and deescalate the situation – resulting in a better outcome for the mentally ill individual and fewer calls to police.

MacKenzie said for a time, his department, like others, had vacancies, and so there was money available in the existing budget to contract with Sweetser. He said he has built a full-time position into the budget that voters will decide in June. If that is approved, MacKenzie said he would  like to see the department’s behavioral health liaison work with first responders – fire and rescue personnel as well as police – who are first as the scene of difficult, sometimes harrowing situations, for a conversation.

“We’ve gone far too long – law enforcement, fire and rescue – with sucking it up,” he said.

Kennebunk is not alone it the approach of having a social worker contracted to the police department. Just up the road a few miles, Jacob Hammer is Biddeford Police Department’s community engagement specialist, under contract through Spurwink.  He’s been on the job for about a year, and Biddeford has recently advertised for a second specialist.

Schlein, 38, who grew up in Arrowsic, began her career in the medical field as a certified nursing assistant, and returned to school, earning her degree in social work. Her private practice was located in Biddeford, where she specialized in treating adults involved with substance misuse.

These days, her role is seeing what people need, and she noted navigating the social service system can be difficult for those unfamiliar with it. She is enjoying her work – both when she is in the office, following up with people, and when she’s on a call.

“I feel really lucky to find myself here,” especially because of the department’s and MacKenzie’s approach to  substance use, she said.

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