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Bangor will pilot new team of mental health experts to respond to police calls

Linda Coan O'Kresik
Bangor police officer Doug Smith, who serves as the full-time court officer, gets out of the department’s electric car at the Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Officials in Bangor say they will create a new team of crisis intervention experts who will respond to mental health and other welfare calls that are now being dealt with by police.

The city's police department received funds over the summer to launch the Bangor Community Assistance Team, made up of four new employees. The city plans to begin advertising for the new positions later this week.

The department receives nearly 36,000 calls a year for service, and 10-15% of them are for situations that don't require a police officer, said Bangor city manager Debbie Laurie.

Bangor police last year received about 3,200 calls for welfare checks, she added.

"We're a pretty busy police service," Laurie said. "If we can free up an officer's time and allow folks who have some skills to kind of work through these individuals, and if it takes an hour, it takes an hour. That's OK."

The city's dispatch center determine whether a particular situation needs a police officer, or if a member of the Bangor Community Assistance Team should respond instead.

The city said new team members will have a background in social work and will provide nonemergency crisis and intervention services. They may also refer people seeking help to local outreach services, Laurie said.

"We get a lot of calls from individuals in the community who are saying, 'There's somebody on that bench; they've been there all day. Can somebody check and make sure they're OK?' A BCAT member could go and do that," she said.

Laurie said the Bangor Police Department approached the city with the idea based on an existing partnership with Acadia Healthcare, where mental health professionals have been riding with local law enforcement for several years.

The city will fund the new team on trial basis for a year, partly through federal community development funds that it received during the pandemic.