FREEHOLD – The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office marked the official launch of three community-based initiatives intended to promote mental health services countywide with a ceremony in Freehold on Friday, timed to coincide with the start of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month.  

Flanked by community partners with the Monmouth County Board of Commissioners, County Bar Association, County Public Defender’s Office, County Police Chiefs Association, and a host of additional partner organizations, Prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago hailed the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General’s Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation (ARRIVE) Together program and the MCPO Link 2 Care and Restart Diversion Program initiatives as carrying the potential to vastly enhance the mental health of individuals whose personal struggles have brought them into contact with law enforcement.

“While the foundational responsibility for all of us in law enforcement is to ensure the public’s safety and seek justice, we have made it an accompanying priority here in Monmouth County to keep in mind that justice is not a one-size-fits-all concept; for every case and every defendant, it should be tailored to look slightly different,” Prosecutor Santiago said. “Those defendants who are predominantly only hurting themselves with their crimes often find themselves at a crossroads in their lives by the time they encounter law enforcement: on one path is a downward spiral, while the other path can lead to a long, prosperous future. We view the initiatives being unveiled today as a mechanism through which police officers can not only point these individuals in the right direction, but connect them with the resources they need to get started on their journey.”

To summarize the three programs:

  • First, the ARRIVE Together program partners law enforcement with mental health specialists to improve law enforcement’s approach to responding to and following up on 911 calls involving individuals in crisis or who would benefit from mental health and behavioral health resources. With its multi-model approach and community-informed strategies, the ARRIVE Together program significantly impacts law enforcement’s response to mental and behavioral health crises. The program has grown significantly since its inception in December 2021 and recently expanded statewide, covering all 21 counties and serving roughly half of New Jersey’s population. ARRIVE Together recognizes each community’s diverse resources and needs, and tailors its models accordingly, offering a range of interventions, from co-response and telehealth to proactive engagement models. The impact of ARRIVE Together is tangible, with dramatic reductions in arrests, injuries, uses of force, and the elimination of racial disparities in mental health outcomes across the State. In Monmouth County, the local ARRIVE Together initiative has initially involved Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)-trained members of the Sheriff’s Office and Long Branch Police Department responding to calls with RWJBarnabas Health/Monmouth Medical Center screeners on a pilot basis, with expansion of the initiative expected throughout the remainder of the year. For more information about ARRIVE Together, go online to https://www.njoag.gov/programs/arrive-together/.
  • Second, the MCPO Link 2 Care Referral and Follow-Up Program, operated under the auspices of ARRIVE Together and funded by the OAG, was conceptualized out of a recognition that police officers across Monmouth County frequently encounter individuals who appear to have untreated mental health issues or could benefit from mental health resources. Through Link 2 Care, police officers can even refer individuals before a crisis to a team of mental health specialists from CPC Integrated Health and the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County for case review, treatment, and management. With close to 30 percent of the first batch of referrals to Link 2 Care being for seniors, MCPO has also created a Link 2 Care Senior Citizen Mental Health Subcommittee to develop a Resource Card for such individuals impacted by these issues or cognitive decline; these materials are in the process of being delivered to senior centers and police departments countywide. For more information about Link 2 Care, including links to the Referral Form and Resource Cards, go online to https://mcponj.org/link-2-care-referral-and-follow-up-program/.
  • Finally, the MCPO ReStart Diversion Program was conceptualized to divert certain Superior Court defendants from incarceration to mental health services and case management. Non-violent, low-level offenders who are believed to have committed their offenses due to an existing or suspected mental health disorder undergo a legal and clinical screening before being accepted into the Program, and accepted applicants plead guilty with an alternative sentence, agreeing to comply with supervised treatment and social services – thereby avoiding incarceration and “restarting” their lives. For more information, including the admission criteria, exclusionary criteria, and background about the referral process, go online to https://mcponj.org/restart-diversion-program/.

These initiatives will serve to supplement the existing Recovery Diversion Program (RDP), a substance use and mental health program that MCPO started as a pilot initiative in Long Branch Municipal Court in 2021 and is now established in six Monmouth County municipalities and counting, as well as the office’s 24/7 Substance Use Helpline (833-644-2273) and Project Medicine Drop initiative (background on all three can be found at https://mcponj.org/).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that slightly more than 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness, but fewer than half (47.2 percent) receive treatment, and more than a third (33.5 percent) also experience substance use disorder. It’s part of what is driving a historic national increase in suicides; nearly 50,000 individuals were lost due to intentional self-harm in 2022, according to statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than any previous year for which statistics were available, dating back to at least 1941.

According to NAMI statistics, slightly more than 1.1 million adults in New Jersey have a mental health condition, with 42.2 percent of adults statewide reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression when surveyed in 2021.

“While the twin issues of mental health and substance use can certainly seem tremendously daunting, it’s important to remember that even helping just one individual at a time can have extraordinary ripple effects,” Prosecutor Santiago said. “Everyone in the orbit of such individuals stands to benefit in some way, from their family members to their friends to their future employers. And the more people we manage to help turn their lives around, the more it will free up local law enforcement to focus on priorities such as investigating and mitigating more serious or violent crimes.”

“Through New Jersey’s ARRIVE Together program, we have pioneered a transformative and collaborative alternative response initiative that recognizes the needs of those in crisis or needing mental health support. Now active in all 21 New Jersey counties and expanding into new municipalities regularly, the ARRIVE Together program currently serves over 50% of the state’s population,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “By fostering partnerships with state and local law enforcement, mental health professionals, and the community, we’re reshaping our response in a way that will impact generations and make our communities safer. Public safety is a shared responsibility, and I commend the strategic collaboration of the leaders, stakeholders, and organizations who had the vision to link these services together. Together, we continue to create a safer, healthier, and more just New Jersey.”

“Ensuring the safety and well-being of all individuals, especially when responding to assist those experiencing a behavioral health crisis, is of the utmost importance for members of law enforcement,” Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said. “By actively participating in the ARRIVE Together program, our sheriff’s officers and mental health professionals stand ready as partners, to respond to sensitive situations offering compassionate support and fostering a safer community for all.”

 “On a daily basis, our police officers are encountering individuals who don’t pose a danger to others, but have clearly lost their way in life and need a helping hand to turn things around. These officers may not have the tools necessary to fill that role, but there’s no reason they can’t act as a conduit to get these individuals in touch with those who do,” Long Branch Public Safety Director William Broughton added. “We are beyond proud to be early adopters of these pioneering programs in Long Branch, and have no doubt that other agencies will eagerly follow suit when they realize the scope of the resultant benefits to their communities.”