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

At the Roselle Park Police Department, officers Ryan Hokanson and Jessica Cambronero participate in the Arrive Together pilot program.

Policymakers across the United States have been grappling with ways to address fatal police shootings and beatings, most recently in Memphis with the death of Tyre Nichols, as demands for an overhaul of the nation’s approach to criminal justice intensify.

A program in New Jersey that pairs police officers with certified mental health screeners is expanding into 10 of the state’s 21 counties, with the aim of de-escalating conflicts before they turn violent.

In New Jersey, the Arrive Together program seeks to build trust between the police and the community, and to reduce the time people in crisis wait before being connected to a mental health screener.

Part of a pilot program that New Jersey’s Attorney General’s Office created after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, the approach — called Arrive Together — was meant to better address the mental health needs of people in crisis and reduce the risk that encounters might end in violence.

“It is common sense,” said Sarah Adelman, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Human Services. “But it is also radical and system-changing work.”

“There’s mistrust,” said Daniel McCaffery, the police chief in Roselle Park, N.J., where the mental health teams began operating in December. “There’s a feeling among some residents that the people you call for help are the people who may kill you.”

“We have to rethink our approach,” he added.

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