NEWPORT NEWS, Va (WAVY)– Newport News is launching a new program aimed at getting people help instead of handcuffs.
The Community Assistance Response (CARE) program aims to provide initial crisis intervention services for those who are experiencing mental or behavioral health issues.
It is a partnership among the police and fire departments and the Community Services Board.
Newport News Emergency Communications center will dispatch a CARE team when calls for service are nonviolent and show a need for mental health care.
There are two CARE teams each comprised of a paramedic and mental health professional. The teams are currently working four 10-hour days. They hope to expand in the future.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four people with a serious mental illness has been arrested by police at some point in their lifetime. In Virginia, one in six people who are homeless live with a serious mental illness.
The treatment from the Newport News CARE team comes without the intimidation that sometimes comes with the police.
“Sometimes just showing up in this uniform may push someone to be aggressive or fear or whatever state they’re in — this uniform can cause some concern,” Police Chief Steve Drew told WAVY.
Police will still respond to every call, but Drew said they will not always take the lead.
“We may stay in the parking lot, we may stay in the street, we may stand in the driveway and unless there’s some situation that goes on inside that we’re needed, we’ll kind of take a back seat,” he said.
In their first week, the CARE teams already responded to 30 calls.
“We have individuals in the community that have called 911 over 300 times in a year and a lot of the calls are very minor issues that can be solved with other resources,” Fire Chief Jeff Johnson told WAVY.com.
This program will hopefully also free up police and fire crews to respond to emergencies and better serve the entire city.
“The lack of mental health crisis services across the country has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders during most incidents,” said Newport News Mayor McKinley L. Price. “In Newport News, we are changing the way our city responds. The CARE program will help keep people with mental illness out of jail and get them on the path to support and recovery. The partnership model we have created is truly collaborative and person-centered, laying the foundation for sustainable change in the lives of those who are served.”