Skip to Content

St. Albans City considers adding new position to police department’s mental health response team

Back to List

Posted: Dec 20, 2021| Categories: Uncategorized

By Josh Ellerbrock

ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans Police Department may be expanding its mental health response program after the city’s police advisory board (PAB) recommended funding a new position during council’s Monday night meeting. 

Because of a lack of funding for the program, the police department utilizes the services of a single mental health clinician, Sam Weber, who is employed by Northwestern Counseling & Support Services.

Weber, however, works four days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and many mental health crisis calls occur during the late shift. PAB Chair Melinda White proposed the city fund another similar position to expand the hours where such service is available.

“There’s a lot of data that supports the efficacy of having the appropriate people at the appropriate places when these crisis calls happen,” White said.

She estimated the cost to fill another position to be between $80,000 to $120,000 to cover pay, benefits and any overhead.

City aldermen were receptive to the idea after White, Weber and Police Chief Maurice Lamothe spoke about the effectiveness of the program.

Weber often plays an active part when officers respond to calls involving someone going through a mental health crisis, and having someone with such a skillset can often help de-escalate a situation, connect them with services and prevent officers from needing to bring individuals to the hospital.

“Part of what the community has asked us for is how do we limit the number of escalating events where employees have to use force, where they’re put in a position where they might have to use force and really respond to the situation at hand,” PAB Vice-Chair Jamie Pinkham said.

If the position is funded, the city would look for someone familiar with both substance use disorder and mental health services. Both are topics that officers often receive some training in, but mental health clinicians often have more stringent education requirements before working in the field.

Lamothe said additional expertise is one of the reasons he recommends an expansion of the program.

“If you’re not an expert, what do you rely on? You rely on another expert,” Lamothe said. “…The goal here is to get that help out to the community as quickly as they can get it and get them to where they need to be and get us out of their world. And it just worked out great for [the police department].”

As for Weber’s responsibilities, she often goes out on patrol with officers and responds to cases when needed. While at the department, she will also make follow-up calls with those individuals who suffered through a mental health crisis to see if they would like to be connected with other community social services. Other times, she’ll have people call her.

“I’ve definitely built enough rapport with community members that sometimes they just call me directly knowing that I’m there, and say “Hey, I’m having a hard time. Can you come here?” she said.

If the city decides to fund a new position to complement Weber’s work, the program would be the first time in Vermont that a municipality directly employs a mental health clinician in a police department — most similar programs use outside employees. For example, the Vermont Department of Public Safety funnels dollars to qualifying mental health agencies in each region to embed mental health clinicians in each of the Vermont State Police’s 10 barracks.

If funded, city officials estimate that it could take up to six months to expand the program. Cloud said the current hiring climate makes it difficult to fill positions quickly, and the specialized skillset of a mental health clinician complicates the issue.

“There’s really a need for that 24/7 if you want to be as effective as possible,” White said. “We also know that there’s just not unlimited funds out there and unlimited people able to do the work. It takes a special person to do this kind of work.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *