ROCHESTER, N.Y. — To partner mental health clinicians with law enforcement and to deliver immediate assistance is an idea most everyone in the Rochester area agrees is right for our time.
Both Rochester and Monroe County have teams, but some say neither appears ready to deliver and meet the demand that grows by the month.
Law enforcement leaders say demand for this service already outpaces resources. In one village, calls for the county’s Forensic Intervention Team (FIT) rose over 300 percent since it started three years ago.
FIT has two clinicians working five days a week. They don’t work weekends. Police chiefs in the area have alleged many times departments can’t get anyone from FIT to respond.
Both Gates Police Chief James Van Brederode and Fairport Police Chief Samuel Farina commented on the mental health service in the days after calls for it rose, in both the city of Rochester and across Monroe, after a 9-year-old girl was pepper-sprayed while in Rochester Police custody on Friday.
"We’re getting under a whole mindset now of calling them, which is good," Van Brederode said. "It's what you want to do. You got the community calling now asking for FIT members. That’s a great start. But now it’s time to produce and then we’re not producing right now."
"It could be a lot more effective with the dedicated resources to it. Whether it’s more personnel, whether it is more money, but it’s being used," said Farina. "As you see overtime it has been used more and more by law-enforcement across the county."
"The message has been put out. This is the way we want to go. We’re not being able to meet that demand right now, so are people not going to have confidence in the system?" Van Brederode said.
"The program is really officer generated. So when an officer goes to a mental health call, family trouble, a person that, you know, is in need that this is suffering from a mental health issue, we can immediately bring the FIT resource to that situation immediately in person or through follow up resources," said Farina.
“After seeing what happened over the weekend, this clearly is is a major priority and an issue within our community that needs to be addressed. Someone needs to find the funding so we can do this the right way," Van Brederode said.
"We’re looking for 24/7 availability, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, 365 days out of the year. To have that resource available to us so that we can properly address any particular situation easily, much more effectively than we are right now," said Farina.
"You can’t cover the whole county of Monroe and the city of Rochester, with the staffing that they have right now. It's absolutely window dressing at this point,” Van Brederode said.
According to County Executive Adam Bello, Monroe County’s two-member FIT team was available last Friday to respond to Avenue B, where a 9 year old was ultimately pepper sprayed in police custody. Instead it was a city response.
The Rochester Police Department is supposed to call the city’s new Person In Crisis (PIC) unit, which has yet to hit the streets.
“As I’ve stressed before not every emergency call should be met with a badge and a gun. No longer can we continue to fall back on ‘this is what they were taught to do’ as an acceptable answer," Bello said on Twitter.
Spectrum News has attempted for two days to reach the county executive to respond to our story. His office has not responded.