Saugerties police will get crisis intervention training

Saugerties has received a state grant that will provide crisis intervention training for police, according to police chief Joseph Sinagra. Saugerties will receive $1500 as reimbursement for each policeman taking the training. A crisis intervention team will be formed. The 2016-17 state budget set aside funding for the expansion of the state’s crisis intervention services.

“An effective crisis intervention program requires ongoing collaboration and partnership amongst law enforcement, the mental-health system, criminal justice representatives, emergency services, and consumer and family advocacy groups,” according to a letter from Rana Meehan, director of the state’s mental health and criminal collaboration unit to the police department.

On the national level, the crisis intervention team approach to dealing with the mentally ill began in 1988.

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Two incidents at the local Price Chopper last February, one when a man walked into the popular supermarket took a smock out of the store’s break room and insisted he was the store’s manager before barricading himself into a room, and a second when the same man went back into the store a day later and stripped off his clothes, “put Saugerties on the radar of the state, because of the amount of publicity those events got,” said Sinagra. Those two incidents were handled peacefully by the Saugerties Police Department with no injuries to the police, store employees or shoppers.

Dealing with individuals who have mental-health problems resulted in police transporting more than 100 people to the Health Alliance Hospital in 2016, Sinagra said. “We take them into civil custody, put them in handcuffs, basically arrest them, and then take them to the hospital,” he explained.

In 2013, the police department changed how it handles the mentally ill. Until then, police called to an incident that involved a mentally ill individual but not acting in a criminal manner would call Diaz Ambulance Service to transport the individual to the hospital. That year, paramedics treating a mentally ill person on the way to Kingston were assaulted by that person. Kingston police had to respond and arrested the man.

Since then, Saugerties police now take a mentally ill person acting irrationally into custody, put the cuffs on, and transport that person to the hospital.

Three Saugerties police officers have already received the crisis intervention training, which takes a week. Sinagra hopes to have all the officers trained.

The course is designed to teach officers how to recognize a person having a mental-illness episode or identify someone with a mental illness, and how to deal with that person. “Right now we’re flying by the seat of our pants,” Sinagra added.

The Saugerties crisis intervention team will be led by sergeant Jorge Castagnola.