POTSDAM — The Potsdam Police Advisory Committee met virtually for the third time Wednesday to continue discussing several topics surrounding local law enforcement’s role in the community.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the stakeholders addressed different ways Potsdam police officers could interface with the community more, possible non-police interventions with people dealing with severe mental health or substance abuse-related events and ways residents can submit comments about the department, among a range of other issues.
The committee, which includes stakeholders chosen by village officials to be representative of various civic organizations, institutions and communities within Potsdam, is part of the statewide review of law enforcement agencies mandated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in an executive order over the summer. The group will eventually craft policy recommendations to be voted on by the village Board of Trustees.
One idea discussed extensively Wednesday, as well as at some previous meetings, is the possibility of establishing ways of involving medical professionals to help mitigate situations involving people in the midst of mental health or substance-related crises.
“The police need to step away from these individuals who fear police and they know that there’s a chance of incarceration and being locked into a system that they cannot get out of. So if we can keep these people away from interacting with the police, this is the strategy,” said Scott Schulte, a nurse within St. Lawrence Health System.
He suggested a hotline where medical professionals would respond completely in lieu of law enforcement.
Potsdam Police Chief Mark R. Murray said he will be interested in a similar initiative that’s being introduced in New York City and would strongly consider implementing something comparable if the results are positive.
While the other members of the group seemed to agree that introducing medical care before an individual is brought into custody could be helpful, the matter of logistics would be a major issue at this point.
“That’s something that’s going to have to come from the hospital, though,” Village Administrator Greg R. Thompson said. “I mean we can do it in conjunction with them, but it’s going to take the will of the hospital to play a role as well.”
St. Lawrence Health System Chief Operating Officer Eric Burch chimed in and said the hospital group is working with Rochester Regional Health, another group, to expand crisis intervention programs and could discuss trying to “dovetail” that into something with the village.
The group is set to meet again in early December.