Newport News (VA) Launches Community Assistance Response Program

The The Community Assistance Response program van.
Photo/Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board

The City of Newport News has launched a progressive new program designed to provide crisis intervention services to individuals within the city.  The CARE program is the result of a partnership between the Newport News Fire Department (NNFD), the Newport News Police Department (NNPD) and the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board (H-NNCSB).  Members of the CARE team will provide initial support for those experiencing mental or behavioral health issues within Newport News.

“The lack of mental health crisis services across the country has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders during most incidents,” said Newport News Mayor McKinley L. Price, DDS.  “In Newport News, we are changing the way our city responds.  The CARE program will help keep people with mental illness out of jail and get them on the path to support and recovery. The partnership model we have created is truly collaborative and person-centered, laying the foundation for sustainable change in the lives of those who are served.”

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in twenty adults in the United States experience serious mental illness each year and one in four people with a serious mental illness have been arrested by the police at some point in their lifetime.  Crisis Intervention Teams like the CARE program are advanced, community-based approaches to improve the outcomes of these encounters.    

“The Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board is grateful to the City of Newport News for their commitment to improving the lives of those impacted by behavioral health challenges,” said Natale Ward Christian, Executive Director. “We are excited to work together with our community partners on such an innovative approach in assisting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”  

When the Newport News Emergency Communications Center receives a call for service indicating a need for crisis intervention or other mental health supports, they now dispatch the CARE team. The team consists of a Newport News Fire Department paramedic and a qualified mental health provider from the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board.  The CARE team will respond in a marked vehicle and will assess the individual and provide necessary interventions and support. A police officer will also respond to ensure the safety of those involved, but will not serve as lead. 

“Helping individuals with mental illness and behavioral health struggles is one of the greatest challenges faced by law enforcement,” said Chief of Police Steve Drew. “The CARE program allows officers to take a step back during these calls – as long as there is no risk of harm to that individual or others – and connects them with first responders who are better equipped to meet their needs.”

Nationally, very few crisis intervention teams employ paramedics as part of their service model, and Newport News is the only Hampton Roads locality that operates the team in this manner.

“The Newport News Fire Department is pleased to lead a team that supports our community and gives police officers, our fellow first responders, tools to do their jobs safely and more efficiently,” stated Newport News Fire Chief Jeff Johnson.  “The Newport News CARE program will create connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, community organizations, and individuals experiencing mental and behavioral issues and their families.  The CARE program will strengthen our community and help people access the medical treatment they need, instead of placing them in the criminal justice system.”

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