Madison Heights, Hazel Park join co-responder program

Deal will provide mental health specialists for crisis calls

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published January 8, 2024

 The Madison Heights Police Department has entered into an agreement with the police in Hazel Park, Ferndale and Royal Oak to provide mental health specialists for crisis intervention.

The Madison Heights Police Department has entered into an agreement with the police in Hazel Park, Ferndale and Royal Oak to provide mental health specialists for crisis intervention.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — The cities of Madison Heights and Hazel Park have joined Ferndale and Royal Oak in a deal that will provide their police departments with specialists that can follow up with those in a mental health crisis.

The co-responder program is a collaboration between the four cities and the Oakland County Health Network, modeled after a similar arrangement started between Auburn Hills, Birmingham and Bloomfield in 2021, a deal that has led to improvements in the resolution of mental health calls.

The Madison Heights Police Department has already put four officers through crisis intervention training provided by OCHN and conducted department-wide training in de-escalation tactics when dealing with subjects in a mental health crisis. The department has also partnered with Families Against Narcotics and Hope Not Handcuffs to help those struggling with addiction.

But in a letter to the City Council dated Dec. 5, Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh and Madison Heights Police Chief Brent LeMerise said that more needs to be done, since police are increasingly the sole first responders sent to people in a mental health crisis, and the lack of follow-up has led to repetitive and sometimes dangerous calls.

The resulting co-responder program will hire two full-time mental health specialists who will serve all four police departments. They will be contracted directly from OCHN, and the four cities will split the cost, providing them with a workspace and communication devices, and implementing a system to track calls and evaluate results each year.

When police receive a mental health call, the specialists will follow up with those involved and connect affected individuals and families to hospitals, courts and other institutions. The specialists will also provide proactive education to community members.

The initial cost of the program will be $245,000, with an annual recurring cost of about $240,000 that includes the salary and wages for clinicians, vehicle reimbursements, and equipment such as radios, computers and cellphones. The cost will be shared by the four communities, with the starting contribution from Madison Heights being $61,250, with an annual recurring cost of $60,000.

On Dec. 7, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners approved a grant to OCHN that will help fund the programming. Each city will receive funding for one year, as long as they commit to sustaining the program in the future.

Ed Klobucher, the city manager of Hazel Park, said he wanted to thank the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, and Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward in particular, for the decision to support the initiative.

“I’m glad the county was wise enough to see the value of this program. Now we will have specialists who can help people find resources when they have a mental health crisis, which will hopefully lead to more lasting solutions,” Klobucher said. “It’s a valuable resource for our officers.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said she is very grateful to Marsh for getting the city involved.

“We have been talking about it for over a year, so it’s long overdue, and from speaking with the co-responder in Troy, I know this is going to benefit both our emergency responders and residents. Our police officers are great, but if someone is having a mental health crisis, having someone who is fully trained to handle these situations onsite is ideal,” Grafstein said in an email. “Our mental health system is broken, and arresting and putting someone who needs mental health care in jail instead of getting them the help they need is appalling.”

David Soltis, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, lost his father to suicide in 1985 when Soltis had just turned 19. He found his father dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the family garage. Soltis also lost a cousin to suicide about 10 years ago.

“If I think about my own experience with my father, I think it would’ve helped if he had been able to talk about his feelings. But men often struggle with being emotionally vulnerable,” Soltis said. “With this program, I have my doubts how well it will help. But I will say, let the data drive it — I want to see the metrics we’re using to evaluate it, and the numbers of prevented suicides after this has been up and running for awhile. Then we can begin to measure its effectiveness. But I still think there is more work to be done getting to the root cause of the issue.”

Sean Fleming, another member of the Madison Heights City Council, said the program will likely reduce the number of repetitive calls that the police receive.

“And the county is able to get more money and training than we probably could by ourselves,” Fleming said. “This way, we get the benefits without taking more away from the budget of the city.”

Quinn Wright, another member of the Madison Heights City Council, said that the program will complement the city’s already excellent police service.

“It’s equally beneficial for our residents, as it promotes enhanced safety and communication,” Wright said in an email.

Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, said the program could lead to in-house mental health specialists at the Madison Heights Police Department.

“They will not only reduce crime, but positively impact the lives of the people who need help and their loved ones. It’s a total ripple effect. We see a need, and we’re taking advantage of a grant from Oakland County to make it happen financially, and partnering with three other communities to implement it. And similar to our Special Investigations Unit that started as a task force with other communities before we brought it back, this setup may simply become part of our police department in the future,” Bliss said. “That’s my goal: monitor its success, and then continue to expand upon it.”