“Do you like music?” the young officer asked a middle-aged woman as they stood in her run-down apartment in Waterville.

The officer was attempting to convince the woman – who was in the throes of a severe mental health crisis – to accept a ride to the hospital for an evaluation. As the officer’s supervisor, I was amazed as he bargained with the woman after seeing a guitar beside the kitchen table.

“If I play you a song, will you take a ride with me so we can get you some help?” he asked. I watched as the officer sat down with the guitar, strummed on it and sang an impromptu song to calm her and establish the rapport necessary to end the situation without the use of force.

A recent editorial (“Our View: Maine Deadly Force Review Panel report doesn’t shed enough light,” Feb. 19) made several points – among them, that there is not enough information about cases where officers manage to handle a situation involving mental health crises without force. I couldn’t agree more.

After my 28 years as a law enforcement officer, I could tell you hundreds of stories of officers who, at times placing their personal safety at risk, displayed incredible compassion, patience and concern for the welfare of society’s most vulnerable members. We can all agree that cases where deadly force is necessary to immediately cease the threat of death or serious bodily injury to an officer or third party are tragedies.

They shake our communities, devastate families and frequently cause deep and lasting emotional wounds to the officers themselves. Luckily, these cases reflect an infinitely small number of cases when compared to those which are successfully defused. The officers who overwhelmingly succeed at deescalation receive the same training, wear the same uniforms and work for the same departments as those required to use deadly force. In fact, they are frequently the same officers.


Maine’s police will be the first to tell you that despite the heroic efforts of mental health workers, the system for crisis stabilization, residential treatment and monitored recovery is broken. It’s underfunded, understaffed and the infrastructure is woefully inadequate.

And while I’m proud of our officers (many of whom are trained Crisis Intervention Team members) and their efforts, they are not mental health professionals. That’s why many agencies have instituted programs to partner with mental health and substance use liaisons, frequently embedding them with officers for crisis response, or case follow-up. These partnerships vastly improve the communication between our professions, which the editorial correctly identified as a priority. Sanford Police Department in York County is an excellent example, having created a special unit including specially trained police and crisis workers, and where the county’s behavioral health liaison is housed.

This year I have the privilege of serving as president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and, from this vantage point, I can assure you that my profession is a fully engaged partner in the work the editorial board identified as needed.

Next month, we’ll be bringing nearly 100 police, prosecutors and mental health workers together to discuss our state’s updated protective custody statute and our new law allowing for the issuance of weapons restriction orders (similar to other states’ “red flag” laws), resulting in the removal of weapons from a person identified as posing a substantial risk of foreseeable harm. Since the law took effect several years ago, it’s been used to facilitate weapons removal from 35 individuals – and has potentially saved lives by doing so.

I love working with police officers, who are the ultimate pragmatists and helpers. Many great officers carry duct tape and a multitool in their duty bag, to solve problems for citizens they encounter. Likewise, through training, policy development and engagement with our partners, I’m pleased to report that problems are being solved in Maine every day, from our largest cities to our smallest towns.

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