New Castle County Police form a new behavioral health unit

When someone overdoses, often their first stop is a jail cell.

It's a hurdle to recovery, but New Castle County Police are trying to change that approach. 

They've been doing so for several years, and now a combination of grants will make it possible to form a behavioral health unit. It will incorporate the Hero Help Program, formed in 2016, and the Mental Health Program which was created in 2018.

"The New Castle County Police Department does this because we care," New Castle County Police Chief Col. Vaughn Bond Jr. said Tuesday. "As police officers, we see first hand how addiction and untreated mental illness can destroy individuals as well as their families." 

Hero Help was designed to develop a program to direct a person toward treatment instead of arrest, avoiding an initial charge in the event of an overdose. An arrest warrant could be sought if the person fails to abide by a treatment program agreement.

County Police said in the first two years of Hero Help, 70 people sought treatment. After a full-time coordinator was hired, the number jumped to more than 350 in a year-and-a-half.

In addition to the initial grants and support from county and state governments, the Department of Justice Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-Based Program and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program came through with competitive grants.

"The reality is that for decades the criminal justice system has been the default mental health and addiction system," National Alliance on Mental Illness Delaware CEO Joshua Thomas said. "People ended up in jails and prisons that would be better served in treatment. It's great to see now a program expand that's going to help people get into that needed treatment so hopefully they're not going to come into contact with law enforcement anymore. They're going to live in recovery and they're going to continue to be productive contributing citizens in our community."

Dan Maas coordinated the Hero Help program since being brought on full time.

"One of the things we've learned is, relapse is part of recovery," Maas said. "We do our best to work with people as long as they are willing."

According to David Humes of AtTAcK Addiction, whose son died of an overdose, the approach is taking away the perception people with substance abuse disorder have of police as "the bad guys."

"The truth is that here in Delaware, our police departments have become a progressive force seeking to help rather than arrest people who have this disease," Humes said. "The New Castle County Police Department has led the way in changing the hearts and minds of other departments here in our state as well as our neighbors."

Reporter - Anchor

Mark Fowser is a veteran journalist in Delaware.