MONTPELIER (AP) -- The Vermont State Police and Department of Mental Health said Monday they’re stepping up efforts to collaborate in responding to people in mental health crises.
That word came nearly two weeks after a 39-year-old Thetford man died when he was hit with a Taser stun gun by a state trooper. Macadam Mason earlier had called a hospital crisis line saying he was suicidal.
Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood said his department had been talking with public safety officials for months about stepping up collaboration. He said the aim is to have a mental health counselor or counselors respond along with police to a situation like the one that unfolded in Thetford.
Mason, who had a history of mental health problems and epilepsy, was struck in the chest by a Taser barb carrying a 50,000-volt shock. Police reported Mason was aggressively approaching Senior Trooper David Shaffer and refusing orders to lie on the ground when Shaffer used the Taser on him. A witness later disputed the account that Mason was acting aggressively.
He was unresponsive after the Taser shock and declared dead at a New Hampshire hospital a short time later.
Flood said the efforts at collaboration were given more urgency following Mason’s death.
"After the event in Thetford we just decided it wasn’t moving fast enough. We need to take some proactive steps right away," Flood said.
Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn did not immediately reply to a voicemail message left on his cellphone.
Flood said the first stop will be to ensure that police call the local mental health agency as soon as they get a report of someone who appears to be in a mental health crisis.
Beginning this week, all state police barracks and all of the state’s designated mental health agencies -- regional nonprofit mental health service centers that work under state contract -- will have contact persons on hand to speed communication.
"Whenever either party learns of an event that may call for police and mental health intervention, the other will be called immediately, and the parties will stay in touch until the situation is resolved," said a statement issued late Monday by the Department of Mental Health.
"Whenever possible, a mental health professional will join the police at the scene," it added. "Within three weeks, joint protocols will be in place to guide interactions in these situations."
Flood said the designated mental health agencies most likely will have to add staff to make up new mobile crisis teams. He said this was discussed during the Legislative session when the agencies were given a range of new duties and $8 million in new funding for the statewide system.
The mental health commissioner acknowledged the funding may not be adequate. "You could spend a lot of money pretty quickly putting together a 24-7 mobile crisis system."
The Mental Health Department’s statement said the mobile crisis teams "will improve (police) officers’ abilities to effectively, respectfully and safely interact with persons with mental illness and subsequently divert more of them away from the criminal justice system and to mental health services." It added, "This approach will avoid incarceration in favor of a more appropriate, safe placement and optimize the utilization of available resources."