New Grant- to help police combat substance abuse, improve mental health services

SOURCE: Gallatin News

The Gallatin Police Department has been awarded $1.3 million in federal funding to help combat substance abuse and improve responses to mental health calls during the next three years.

The department recently received a $892,085 Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse Site-based Program (COSSAP) grant along with a $438,461 Justice Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Gallatin police say they plan to use the COSSAP grant to hire a prevention and response officer who will follow-up on overdose cases and work with local judges and prosecutors to make sure individuals receive any treatment they may need.

The funding will also be used to pay for a clinician from Volunteer Behavioral Health to work with inmates at the Sumner County Jail as part of a substance abuse recovery program.

“This grant is really all three agencies working together to try to help those addicted to opioids find a different route in life,” Lt. Bill Vahldiek with the Gallatin Police Department said. “That way they are not reoffending when they get out.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more deaths, illnesses and disabilities are occurring from substance use than from any other preventable health condition.

In Tennessee, there were 1,818 drug overdose deaths reported in 2018, according to the most recent data from the state health department. Of those, 42 occurred in Sumner County.

That same year, there were also 460 outpatient visits involving drug overdoses and 242 inpatient stays reported countywide.

While not all crimes are related to substance abuse, Gallatin Police Chief Don Bandy said that many are.

“Whether it be a theft from a business, shoplifting or burglary, a lot of times it’s tied to (an addiction),” Bandy added. “They have to supply that need and to do that they have to get money. A lot of these people, they’re in such dire straits that they go out and take so they can sell and go buy (more drugs). It’s like a vicious cycle.”

In addition to the funding aimed at combating substance abuse, the JMHCP grant will be used to provide crisis intervention training to 80 percent of the police department, according to Vahldiek. So far, approximately 75 percent of officers have already completed eight hours of mental health first aid training.

The grant will also be used to place a social worker or mental health professional at the police department.

“They will respond to calls for service with people involved with mental health crisis with our officers,” Vahldiek said about the new position. “It just gives us another tool in our tool belt to have somebody out there that can assist us to get that person the treatment they need.”

During January and February, Vahldiek said Gallatin police responded to an average of 12 to 15 mental health calls for service each month.

While the grant funding admittedly won’t solve every problem, Bandy said he hopes it will help officers be better equipped to provide assistance to individuals with an addiction and/or mental health issue.

“We are the first ones there (on the scene) and we have to make some tough decisions,” Bandy added. “Are you still going to have these problems? Absolutely, but hopefully it’s going to make us wiser and figure out what we can do to reach out to the right resources.”