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Pittsfield Police will lead new HUB program to connect people in crisis with service agencies

An SUV is parked on the street in front of a brick building with "Pittsfield Police" on its doors
Josh Landes

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts police department is implementing a new collaborative model for responding to individuals in crisis.

The PPD describes the HUB program, which launched in January, as “a model for community safety and well-being.”

“Everybody who sits at the HUB table, and there's over 20 agencies, they are service providers. The HUB is simply a planned opportunity to collaborate," said Police Chief Michael Wynn. “A referring agency – let's say in this case, the police department – identifies somebody that, based on our contacts in the community, we think is at elevated risk. We bring a referral before the scheduled table meeting. And the initial part of the referral is anonymous, so that the referring agency would provide very basic information: gender, age, they would obviously, in our case, be a Pittsfield resident, and then the type of risk factors that the individual or family might present.”

As an example, Wynn described a 30- to 40-year-old unhoused veteran dealing with mental illness and substance abuse.

“All 20 participants, or whoever was present at the table, would say OK, do we think that this person meets the criteria of elevated and acute risk? If there's consensus they do, then they go to the next filter process, and they would say, OK, the individual we identified is, and they would just give a name and a date of birth," he said. "That allows anybody at the table who is currently providing services to say, oh, we know him, we have him in this case and this is his caseworker, we didn't know he was now homeless. And then after the agencies that are providing services speak, then anybody who may not be providing services but might be able to also speak. They say, you know, he was previously incarcerated, so he fits our profile, we could offer him services.”

From there, a smaller group breaks off to see if they can offer the person in question more services than they were previously receiving.

Wynn tells WAMC that he sees the new model as a continuation of ongoing discussion of the role of policing in the community sparked by 2020’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

“Early in the pandemic, when other agencies were bringing their outreach workers in for their safety and their health, and we were still out there, we saw a dramatic uptick in the types of calls that we would consider to be low level offenses, or maybe not even offenses, quality of life issues," said the chief. "And so we were contacting people in the community who were not necessarily engaging in illegal behavior, but maybe their behavior was disruptive, or it was uncomfortable to the caller. And so we're there and we're dealing with these people. They're not going to be arrested, they're not going to be charged, they're not going to be placed in protective custody. So our normal available tools are of no use to this person. But there's not anything else we can offer them in the moment. The expectation is that in the future, if we have a situation like that, within a very short period of time, ideally less than two weeks, we might be able to make a referral of that type of client to the HUB table, find out who can help them in an immediate way, and then get them the services that they might benefit from so we're not having repeated contact with them in the community.”

The inspiration comes from the Chelsea Police Department, which launched its own hub program in 2015. It was recognized with an award from the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation in 2019 for Innovation In American Government.

Wynn says his initial entreaties to set up a similar program in Pittsfield were met with skepticism.

“Every time I had a conversation with somebody about trying to do something like that here, it kind of met some resistance, and the primary resistance was over privacy and confidentiality and HIPAA,” he explained to WAMC.

The chief says that he finally felt equipped to sell the program after attending an expanded briefing from the Chelsea PD last spring.

“During the briefing, I specifically asked how they got over this siloing or this territorialism," he said. "And they shared with me that when they started theirs, they met the same kind of resistance. But what they learned is that when a resident is identified as being at elevated acute risk, not only is information sharing permissible, in some extreme cases, it's required. And so if somebody is getting to the point where we think that they're probably at risk of four or five, six factors, we can call the stakeholders and say, you have to share this information with us. We're going to lose this person.”

After gathering participating agencies last summer, Pittsfield carried out trainings for the new initiative in December and launched the HUB in January. Its members include 18Degrees, the Brien Center, the Juvenile Resource Center, ServiceNet, County Ambulance, as well as medical and law enforcement entities like Berkshire Health Systems and the District Attorney’s Office.

To date, the PPD says seven Pittsfielders have been served by the new program.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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