Mental health intervention always an issue, sheriff says

Jefferson County police reform - final version

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - As north country law enforcement agencies lay out police reform plans, Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O’Neill says there’s one issue they’ve never quite been able to tackle throughout her career.

Thursday night Jefferson County Legislature chair Scott Gray and Sheriff Colleen O’Neill hosted a public forum on a 21-page police reform draft.

“It describes I think in pretty good detail what we do, what I expect of the deputies, that we all lead by example,” O’Neill said

Through the process, O’Neill and county stakeholders have made a list of recommendations for the office going forward.

Some include body-worn cameras and diversity training.

There’s one issue Sheriff O’Neill says she’s seen for years: crisis intervention.

“My whole career we’ve talked about it, even before this process,” she said. “How do we connect people who need mental health services to the services that are available in our community?”

She says it all has to do with timing.

“We can definitely refer somebody tomorrow morning, but some people need that service right away,” O’Neill said.

Stakeholders specifically talked about the possibility of having mental health experts respond to calls for service.

O’Neill says it’s something that has been initiated in the past without success. She says that’s mainly because of the large area her office responds to and the time it would take mental health experts to respond to a scene.

“We’re going to continue to talk about that and figure out a way to better serve anyone who is in a mental health crisis, who needs something more than a bandaid that a deputy sheriff can put on it at a scene,” she said.

If you live in Jefferson County and have a thought on police reform, they’re open to listening.

You can leave a comment on the Jefferson County sheriff’s website.

You have until next Friday, February 26.

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