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Albany County expands ACCORD pilot program

Albany County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce speaks at ACCORD press conference
Ashley Hupfl
Albany County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce speaks at ACCORD press conference

Albany County is expanding a pilot program designed to improve outcomes for non-violent mental health emergency calls.

The Albany County Crisis Officials Responding and Diverting, or ACCORD, program will be receiving $350,000 in state funds next year for the county-wide expansion. Democratic County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce says the expansion is due to the program’s success.

“We're borrowing on best practices from programs that have been instituted here across the country," Joyce said. "And this is a response to a lot of the upheaval that we've seen over the past two years. We're experiencing a pandemic. They're good questions being raised. There are children out in the street protesting about police interactions with the public. ‘How do we set good tone and set good policy and give police officers all the tools and training they need to effectively respond to a call, and also keep the public safe?’”

The ACCORD program first launched in the Hilltowns in June, consisting of two response teams, with social workers from the County’s Mobile Crisis Team and paramedics from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, who have been trained to handle situations involving mental health and nonviolent emergency cases where law enforcement is not essential.

So far, the program has helped more than 100 people with approximately 240 interactions between phone follow-up and in-person interactions. Each person was connected with services, reducing calls to 911 dispatch.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the mental health crisis.

“Temperaments have changed and it's harder for law enforcement to do their job and to connect with people in the community that might just be a disturbance over a glass of milk that’s been spilt," McCoy said. "And this just gives more resources for the Sheriff’s Department with ACCORD to have someone respond with the deputies in the Hilltowns, because that's where we started it and say, ‘Hey, de-escalate it, figure out they're not really there because of the need to be arrested, but they might just need a different way, another avenue to solve the issue.’”

The pilot program has two social workers and two paramedics to cover two 8-hour shifts. The county anticipates most municipalities will require three social workers or other qualified mental health professionals, as well as two paramedics. Larger municipalities may require a larger team.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says officers not only respond to the mental health calls, but also follow-up later.

“We've had homeless individuals looking to take their life, we've been able to respond. We've been able to talk to them, we've been able to divert them, we've been able to follow up. And that's really what it's about, as well," Apple said. "The R and the D is great - responding and diverting - but the follow up is actually the most important part. Otherwise that person will regress, if they don't continue the counseling or continued the medical treatment, whatever the case may be."