PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – On a late morning in August 2019, Providence Patrolmen Frank Moody and Tony Hampton found themselves on the Henderson Bridge, trying to talk a man from throwing himself over the edge.
Despondent and straddling the metal fence that separates the roadway from the more than 40-feet fall to the Seekonk River, the man warned the officers not to come any closer.
Moody repeatedly tried to connect.
“Nothing is that bad,” Moody said to him. “My name is Frank Moody. Just tell me your name.”
As the minutes ticked by, police body camera video shows the man becoming more emotional, and giving no indication the officer’s words were breaking through.
Finally, as the man turned around to look at Hampton, who was coming from the other direction, Moody lunged. The patrolman grabbed the man from the side of the bridge and forcefully pulled him to the ground and away from the potentially fatal fall.
The scene – which played out months before the pandemic took hold – was just one of hundreds of calls for service for so-called “mental health incidents,” which have been on a staggering rise in the past year.
A Target 12 review of Providence police data shows MHI calls increase 92% in 2020 compared to 2018. Overall, Providence officers responded to 339 MHI calls in 2020, compared to 201 in 2019, 177 in 2018 and 230 in 2017. December was the busiest month for calls in 2020, with 41 calls for service, followed by July (38), and August (37).
Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements said he’s hopeful 2020 was just an outlier because the “the pandemic threw things amuck.”
“People felt a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” he said. “People’s normal lives [were] thrown into a tailspin, there has been a lot of isolation.”
Mental Health Resources:
The Providence Center Emergency Line: 401-274-7111
Butler Hospital Behavioral Health Call Center: 844-401-0111
RI Behavioral Health Hotline: 414-LINK / www.bhlink.org
Clements said more and more police officers are on the frontline when someone is in need of immediate mental health intervention.
“When their loved ones or a friend is in the midst of an episode — a behavioral health issue — they don’t know who to call,” Clements said. “Who would they call? The most visible face of government, their police department.”
Since 2010 the Providence Police Department has worked with The Providence Center, a mental health and addiction treatment provider run by Care New England, to assist in MHL calls and training.
Jacqueline Mancini-Geer, Director of Acute Care at The Providence Center, said they assist several police departments across the state by “providing officer training in behavioral health needs, identification and response, as well as providing support to officers following challenging calls for service.”
“The pandemic, along with associated isolation and loss, and other factors, contributed to especially high rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse among other issues,” Mancini-Greer said. “While other health services moved to telehealth, clinicians and officers continued to respond in-person.”
Clements said one clinician from the Providence Center is assigned to the day shift, and another to the evening, responding to calls with officers when an MHI comes in. But funding for clinicians on the weekend evaporated, and a grant that fuels the current level of service is set to expire.
“During this time where we have the greatest need, ironically, those grants are ready to run out,” he said.
Clements said he has met with members of Rhode Island’s federal delegation, the R.I. Foundation and state and federal courts to secure more resources. He said he hopes to have a resolution in the next month.
“Behavioral health intervention takes a lot of resources, its expensive,” Clements said. “At a time when we’re seeing unprecedented numbers – unprecedented complicated cases – we’re seeing funding up to this point, it’s not there.”
Tim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.