Ferndale police partner with Common Ground for mental health calls

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 23, 2021

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FERNDALE — The Ferndale Police Department is partnering with a crisis services agency to help individuals suffering from mental health issues.

The department is working with Common Ground to help the city’s first responders with crisis management support, specifically to “connect in-need individuals and families with available programs and services,” according to a press release.

Project Director for Common Ground Elizabeth Kjar said the program came about through several Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration State Opioid Response grants to expand their follow-up services within Oakland County.

Kjar elaborated that the aim is to create partnerships with law enforcement to increase people’s access within communities to mental health services and community resources.

“If they believe that an individual is in need of mental health services or victim advocacy — any victim of any crime or substance abuse services — they can offer the individual a follow-up contact from Common Ground and they would submit a referral to us and then we would contact that individual and explain what we’re doing, explain the services and resources that are available to them, and make sure that they’re linked and connected to whatever it is that they need that will help them to address any of the mental health initiatives or anything related to providing assistance with the trauma that they’ve experienced or substance abuse treatment and services,” she said.

Ferndale Police Chief Dennis Emmi said the partnership is a good start for the department to incorporate a more services-driven response to mental health calls.

“Our officers are pretty limited as far as their abilities to handle mental health,” he said. “Basically, they can petition somebody to the hospital if they are suicidal, homicidal or can’t take care of their basic needs. That is pretty much the extent. Anything else is like a referral service.”

Through the program, Ferndale officers will be trained to ask individuals questions to determine whether they need crisis intervention. These questions include yes-or-no questions about violence, substance abuse and whether they’ve had thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Common Ground would then follow-up with people with referrals and a “continuity of care.”

The press release states that severe cases that require immediate intervention or hospitalization will be managed by Common Ground’s Mobile Crisis Response Team. Subsequent care will consist of support services, substance abuse treatment and intervention, and assistance with identifying and eliminating high-risk or dangerous situations.

“We’re hoping that this program is that tool that bridges that gap between the very limited response we had into something that’s more (of a) complete service,” Emmi said. “We’re pretty excited. We’re hopeful that this is an answer to those people who fall through the cracks that we come into contact with.”

Emmi said the core reason for the calls Ferndale officers often receive, whether it is petty theft or family trouble, is a mental health crisis. In many of those cases, the officer might not have a lot of experience dealing with that type of situation.

“They just handle a call on its face value as whatever crimes they’re dispatched to investigate, and they miss clues on the underlying issues,” he said. “Hopefully, this training and this referral process helps us bridge the gap.”

Kjar said the program will continue to maintain contact with individuals for up to a year to make sure they’re connected to the resources they need and that they’re able to access them.

Common Ground started its first partnership with the police department in White Lake Township. The pilot program was used to figure out what was working with the partnership and what wasn’t. Once everything was situated, Kjar said, the program branched out to other law enforcement agencies and communities in Oakland County.

“It’s provided additional support for (police),” she said. “It’s also kind of helped with reducing some of the repeat calls that police officers continue to get because, as we know, lots of people, when anything happens, they just call 911. … They’re not necessarily equipped to provide social services to individuals, and so I know for many of the law enforcement (communities), it’s helped to reduce some of those calls that they constantly get, because now the individual is connected to the right social service that they really need so they don’t have to rely on law enforcement to constantly have to address something that’s not necessarily law enforcement related.”