May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Last week the town’s police, fire and human services departments announced a new “postvention” team who respond to families following suicides of loved ones.
This week, Greenwich Police Sergeant Brent Reeves, who supervises the Special Victims Section, talked to local press about his section and their focus on crimes involving the most vulnerable populations in town, including children.
Reeves said children’s development has been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
Mental health impacts people handle stress, relate to others and make choices.
“Because police are the 24-hour arm of the government, and 911 is what people call when they don’t know what to do, we connect people to the appropriate resources to get them the help they need it,” Reeves said, going on to describe his group as something of a clearinghouse when anything happens involving children.
The Crisis Intervention Team has 61 sworn personnel and four dispatchers trained in crisis intervention. They will assist a child who is out of control or threatening to harm themselves.
“They know to take their police hat off and put on their crisis intervention training hat,” Reeves said. “We intervene immediately if there is anything life threatening and then seek help for the young person.”
Reeves said if a child is suicidal, has made an attempt to take their life, or has suicidal ideation, police get the child to the hospital for evaluation. They can use a PEER form, short for Police Emergency Examination Request, which is the legal mechanism get a person to the hospital even if they don’t want to go.
He said, annually, police average 160 verified mental health, substance abuse or other situations requiring PEER forms.
Also, on average, annually, there are 5-6 suicides, 11 attempts, and approximately 15 substance overdose hospitalizations.
Once a young person is in the hospital, physicians make an evaluation as to whether they are safe and can be released to go home or need to be released to a more permanent facility.
The Special Victims Section often refers children to local non-profit partners for counseling, including the Child Guidance Centers and Family Centers.
“Because we are the 24-hour arm of the government, 911 is what people call when they don’t know what to do,” he explained. “We connect people to the appropriate resources to get the help they need.”
Another program is in conjunction with the Dept of Human Services: the Juvenile Review Board. This is a diversionary program to keep children out of the court system. Reeves explained delinquency is usually a symptom of something else in a child’s life.
“Over the last couple years we’ve seen a drastic increase in the need for mental health for children,” Reeves said. “We all believe this is related to Covid lockdowns, the lack of socialization, and children living on the internet for purposes of school and socializing.”
Reeves said during the pandemic young people lost out on opportunities to develop coping mechanisms.
“Children are missing coping skills when things get stressful,” he said. “Adults are having a hard time coping too, so imagine being a child.”
Special Victims Section detectives are in plain clothes in order not to stigmatize the victims.
“This is such a sensitive area,” Reeves said. “Bedside manner is huge.”
Recently the Junior League of Greenwich bought the the Special Victims Section new furniture to create a “softer” waiting area, and the room was painted green.
Reeves said it is important for the GHS School Resource Officers, Fred Reisch and Chris Wallace, to know when a student is going through a hard time.
One mechanism is the Risk or Threat Assessment, which is completed by the school either when a child engages in self destructive behavior or makes a threat. The assessments are shared with the SROs.
“We determine whether they’re either at low risk or threat risk, and the school resource officers are privy to that information,” Reeves said. “It’s important that the officers know if the child is going through a hard time so if they respond to their address they know the background.”
Reeves said number of assessments have shot up this year.
There were 91 assessments in 2020-2021.
Already there have been 145 assessments in 2021-22.
For example, Reeves said, “If a child is heard or witnessed saying, ‘Oh, I want to kill myself,’ or cutting behavior, they come to our attention.”
The Special Victims Section will typically follow up with the family a day or two after an incident to ask how the child is doing and direct them to community resources including Kids in Crisis and the Child Guidance Center. Other times they’ll make referrals to Liberation House, the Teen Center, the Boys & Girls Club, the YWCA or Family Centers.
An important partner is the Dept of Children and Families.
In fact, Reeves said, beginning this summer a DCF investigator will be embedded in the Greenwich Police Dept a couple days a week. Reeves said DCF investigators have already been embedded in large urban centers’ police departments.
“The idea is to have a closer handshake with DCF,” he said. “To have an investigator here is a few less steps.”
Reeves said there were downsides to young people “living online” during the pandemic.
“Social media is a huge problem for us,” he said. “Social media is just another venue to act out.”
“There is online bullying and ‘group think,’ where they go online to decide how to think rather than to think for themselves.”
Reeves explained that the Greenwich school system uses Gaggle, an internet filter, that flags thousands of words.
“If they go on their school email or internet and say certain words, the SRO’s will get involved,” he said. Words Gaggle flags include gun, kill, shoot and suicide.
“The other problem especially among adolescents is taking pictures of their body and sending them to their boyfriend or girlfriend. Those investigations come up frequently.”
Reeves recommends that parents monitor their children’s social media activity.
“Remember they are your children, and the phone is yours,” he said. “You can take it away and go through it any time.”
Reeves said his recommendation is that middle school children not have Snapchat accounts.
“They should probably stay off Instagram as well,” he said.
“Kids are reporting depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and in the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen such a volume at such a young age of suicide threats. It used to be we’d expect it in 15, 16, and 17-year-olds, but we’ve seen an inordinate number of middle schoolers making threats of self harm and suicide ideations. We’re even seeing it in elementary school.”
Reeves gave his detectives and SROs full credit. “None of this work could be done without the investigators who work in the section. I’m just the supervisor.”
Greenwich Launches “Suicide Postvention Response Team” after Doubling of Anxiety and Depression in SW Connecticut