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Reaching out: Zionsville Police Department creates REACH Unit to address behavioral health situations

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The Zionsville Police Dept. recently announced the creation of its REACH Unit, an acronym for resources, evaluating, assisting in community health, which pairs police with a psychologist to better serve people in need of clinical expertise when police are dispatched.

ZPD Chief Michael Spears first championed the idea, advocating for a behavioral health unit that could help police and the community address predictable challenges.

Police often respond to calls involving people suffering a mental-health crises who do not pose an immediate threat to the public. ZPD officials contend police encounters in such situations might not always be best for people who have mental health needs. Instead, department officials say officers should be assisted by psychologists who can be the first point of contact.

Spears said the unit also can help ensure officer well-being and allow officers to focus on public safety and violent crime.

The REACH Unit will be headed by ZPD Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Frost. She said similar units have become widely used in other police departments with success.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Dept. has a behavioral health unit, and Frost spent time shadowing it to learn what elements the ZPD would like to employ.

“I’ve found that a lot of people may want the help, but they may not know where to even begin to look for the resources,” Frost said. “(The units) are starting to show up at more police departments, and I think that’s why, because you’re seeing them more and more. And I think police departments as a whole are saying, ‘OK, what can we do to help these people, to help our police officers and to help the community that we work and live in all at the same time?”

While calls and reports come in throughout the day, police may be dispatched to a potential mental health situation or a situation where the REACH Unit can follow up. When officers notify the unit that they’ve made contact with someone who may need a follow up or is asking for a follow up, a representative of the police department and a clinician will make contact with the person, talk to them and try to ascertain how they can assist them, whether through counseling, medication, transportation or by some other means.

“The goal is basically to get those people to help,” Frost said.

The unit’s efforts, which prioritize treatment instead of incarceration when appropriate, are in partnership with community service providers and citizens. Frost said the department will partner with local clinicians from Integrated Wellness, LLC, which offers services ranging from individual therapy, family therapy, couples therapy, life-skills coaching, recovery and addiction services and school-based therapy. Integrated Wellness, or InWell, serves residents in Boone, Clinton and Montgomery counties.

By creating the unit, the department’s goal is to reduce the risk of injury for first responders and people in crisis by preventing crime and providing connections to mental health, addiction and social services.

“Sometimes people need that kind of assistance over being incarcerated,” Frost said. “In law enforcement, we deal with different situations all the time, but in reality, these clinicians, that’s what they’re trained for. That’s why we’re bringing the clinicians in – to help with the medical side of it. And on the other side, we are there to represent the police department and also be there for the safety of the clinician.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unit operates via the phone. Frost said she expects the unit to conduct in-person responses when it becomes safe to do so.

Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron praised the ZPD’s creation of the unit.

“(It is) reassuring that the Zionsville Police Dept. has launched something that has been such a need and filled such a gap,” she said. “The connections being made between people who are struggling and people who can help work those things with them – it really is (a) fantastic service. It’s always been a part of what our community has needed, but now there is a unit and a process for meeting that need.”

Who to call

The ZPD’s new REACH Unit encourages those in need of mental health services to contact any of the following Boone County mental health providers:

  • Crisis text line: HOME to 741741
  • Aspire Indiana Health: 800-560-4038
  • Boone County Suicide & Referral Line: 765-482-1599
  • InWell: 317-912-1399 or 765-680-0071
  • Mental Health America of Boone County: 765-482-3020 or 765-3661050
  • National Suicide Prevention: 800-273-8255
  • Project Lifesaver: 765-485-3017
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255, press 1
  • Witham Health Services: 765-485-8700

ZPD Police Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Frost can be reached at 317-873-5967 ext. 8023 or at efrost@zionsville-in.gov.


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