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New Jersey’s Effort to Keep Some Police Encounters From Turning Deadly


“One of the objectives of this is to tone the whole thing down,” said Dana Melici, director of psychiatric emergency services at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, one of nearly a dozen health care organizations that will be providing mental health screeners for the program.

Cases involving people suffering from mental health emergencies are among the most volatile types of policing calls in New Jersey, accounting for roughly half of all reported use-of-force incidents statewide, according to data maintained by the attorney general’s office.

The results can be deadly.

In July 2021, the wife of Gulia Dale, a retired Army major, called 911 to report that he was acting erratically, explaining that he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and that he had a gun. Within 15 seconds of arrival at his home in Newton, N.J., the police had shot him dead, saying he had reached into his vehicle for a weapon.

In May 2020, two days before the death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, a white New Jersey State Police trooper shot and killed Maurice Gordon, a 28-year-old Black man spotted driving 110 miles per hour. His friend had called 911 to report that Mr. Gordon appeared agitated and was talking about a “paranormal experience.”

New Jersey is not alone in its approach. Many cities, including New York, Albuquerque and, in perhaps the longest-running example, Eugene, Ore., deploy social workers and medics to answer 911 calls for mental health emergencies.

New Jersey officials are hoping that the state’s relatively small size and its density will make it easier to replicate the model statewide and to eventually expand the teams’ availability beyond the current three-day-a-week schedule.

Officer Jessica Cambronero, 33, has been riding with a mental health screener to calls in Roselle Park, where she works, and to the neighboring cities of Elizabeth and Linden for about two months.



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