A New Jersey mental health initiative launched 18 months ago has demonstrated significant potential in reducing arrests, use of force and racial disparities in encounters between police and individuals with mental health issues, according to analysis by a D.C. think tank.
The program, called Arrive Together, pairs police officers with mental health experts, aiming to prevent police encounters from escalating to violence and to refer individuals with mental health struggles to treatment centers.
So far, the program has received cautious praise from criminal justice reformers and law enforcement officials. However, the analysis conducted by think tank the Brookings Institute highlighted the need for more data to ascertain its long-term success.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin lauded the program as key to restoring trust between police and the community.
“The key is listening to the community and forming that partnership so that they’re not learning about a program when a moment of crisis emerges — that there’s buy-in on all sides: law enforcement, the health care responders, community, stakeholders and, ultimately, my office,” he said.
The initiative, officially known as Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation (ARRIVE), was originally launched in late 2021 in Camden County and subsequently expanded to Elizabeth and Linden. It will soon be implemented in an additional 10 counties.
Under the program, officers partner with trained mental health clinicians called “screeners,” working eight-hour shifts twice a week.
The analysis, conducted by the Brookings Institute, studied 342 calls between December 2021 and January 2023 and revealed promising outcomes.
According to the study, nearly every call responded to by the Arrive Together teams resulted in no arrest or use of force.
The low incidence of arrests and use of force is attributed to the program’s emphasis on de-escalation techniques and the provision of mental health expertise. The analysis also indicated that racial disparities were not prevalent in the program’s outcomes, unlike typical law enforcement responses.
The study reported that the majority of callers were Black and Hispanic, while two out of three callers were male.
However, critics cautioned that the sample size analyzed is relatively small and limited to specific towns in a densely populated state. They argue that more comprehensive data is necessary before making definitive claims about the program’s success in eliminating racial biases.
“The lack of complete demographic data can actually weaken the case of just how effective the program is at reducing, and in some cases, eradicating racial disparities in policing outcomes,” said senior Brookings fellow Rashawn Ray, who referred to the program as a potential model for other states.
Ray added that sharing more data would also enable better comparisons between Arrive Together responses and conventional law enforcement calls, but was generally optimistic about the results, claiming that such programs could “reform policing as we know it.”
Other states have also begun experimenting with similar programs.
Marleina Ubel, who works with the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, was skeptical about the results, and said that additional data is needed to support claims of success.
Ubel noted that community members at a recent listening session in Paterson called for concrete actions, such as police accountability and increased funding for community-led organizations.
The study comes amid a recent deadly police shooting in Paterson involving activist Najee Seabrooks – who was in the midst of a mental health crisis at the time.
According to Platkin, the success of the program motivated him to expand Arrive Together statewide.
However, Platkin also recognized the potential for non-police responses to mental health calls, emphasizing the need for law enforcement to focus on their core duties while efficiently utilizing health care resources.
“We ask law enforcement professionals in this country to not just be cops, but to be social workers, psychologists, behavioral health specialists, addiction counselors, family dispute mediators. I mean, everything,” Platkin told Brookings Institute members.
“I think we have a lot of work to do, to listen and develop a program … not just, ‘Here’s what they have to say,’ but including the community in designing the program. I’m committed to that, and I think everyone working with us is,” Platkin added.