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Maine police departments receiving record number of mental health-related calls

Police departments say they are dealing with more mental health and substance abuse-related calls than ever before.

GORHAM, Maine — The towns of Gorham and Windham are the latest to hire a community resource liaison in a combined effort to help decrease the total number of mental health calls. 

Gorham's police chief, Chris Sanborn, said it took about a year to nail down the logistics of a joint community resource liaison with Windham police.

"We've seen a significant increase in calls for service dealing with individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse," Chief Sanborn said.

Hailey Berry took on the role of the liaison that police officers in Windham and Gorham turn to when they deal with a mental health or substance abuse-related call.

"Officers, when they deal with a certain call, will make that referral to Hailey to give the information on the call, so she can look at it and see if there's any follow-up work she can do," Chief Schofield said.

Chief Sanborn said Gorham took 130 mental health and substance abuse calls in 2021, and Chief Schofield said Windham handled 162 of those calls that same year.

Since Berry started her position in November 2022,  she said she's been out on 20 calls, and most of the calls she's been to have involved adults in crisis. 

"You are giving people a different perspective, sometimes people think the police department is intimidating, I am coming in as a neutral ground," Berry said.

This issue is not unique to Gorham and Windham. The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said they saw a 300 percent increase in calls in 2021.

Other cities in Maine have also brought on liaisons for mental health needs, including Westbrook, Scarborough, Bangor, Biddeford, Portland, York, and Saco. 

"It's been several years that we have seen a steady increase in those types of calls for service. The pandemic brought things to a new height for many law enforcement agencies across this state anyway," Chief Sanborn said.

A vital part of her role is also helping to reduce repeat service calls. 

"Network people with services, call them and check in on them, and help prevent calls on the service," Chief Schofield said. 

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