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Buffalo police working to improve response to those suffering from mental health crisis

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WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
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Buffalo police captain is now overseeing how the department responds to calls for those suffering from an 'emotional disturbance'.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says for the first time, the Buffalo Police Department has a health services coordinator. 

"And it's nice to take on that leadership role and especially build a program that never existed before,” stated Amber Beyer, Buffalo Police captain.

For more than a decade, Beyer served in the city police department, responding to calls. At the end of 2017 she was promoted to captain and now she will be serving in a new role to carve.  Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood recently created the position of health services coordinator.

“And to be given that opportunity by the Commissioner, so obviously the Commissioner has seen my ability in order to make that program successful, so I’m pretty excited and I feel like it’s a little intimidating also – now I have a lot to prove,” Beyer explained. 

About 115-Buffalo Police officers have completed Crisis Intervention Training known as CIT.  But Captain Beyer tells WBFO News it is her goal to increase training for as many officers as possible so they can better handle someone who might be having a mental health crisis.

“Officers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a mental illness. It’s not always cut and dry that this person has a mental illness. Sometimes we are just responding to a random passerby call and when officers arrived they don’t know what they are dealing with, so a good portion of this training is teaching them the indicators and recognizing symptoms of mental illness,” Beyer remarked. “Emotional indicators, behavioral indicators, appearance, verbal indicators – all these signs that might attribute to mental illness.”

One of the more difficult issues facing the mental health community is the number of people incarcerated that are suffering mental illness who didn’t receive the proper interventions.

“Obviously we have to evaluate what the crime was that occurred. We can’t let serious assaults or anything go unnoticed. We have to pay attention to those and also if it was a responsibility of the mental illness, then try to get them the help that they need. Our goal is to get the individuals that we do respond to linked up with the appropriate services, rather than continue to respond and not get them the proper help they need,” Beyer responded.

“Would that make a difference in arresting them versus bringing them in for some type of an evaluation at ECMC?” asked Buckley.

“If it was a low-level crime, such as a trespassing issue and we find out maybe the person has a mental illness and they’re just lost – they really are not aware of where they’re supposed to be right now – we wouldn’t want to put that person in the criminal justice system – it would do no benefit for that person,” replied Beyer.

The city police department will also be working with Deaf Access Services to provide interpreters for police officers on the streets and better assist with those with developmental disabilities.   

Captain Beyer says her new position will allow officers to “better to serve the community.”  

“My job is specifically to address these issues and get a better response,” Beyer noted.

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