Chapel Hill, Orange County expands crisis response team

(From left to right) Jennifer Melvin, RuthAnne Winston, Mari Hall, and Heather Palmateer make up the initial CARE Team run out of Chapel Hill Police and the Orange County 911 call center. Photo courtesy of the Town of Chapel Hill.

COMMUNITY NEWS

By Tyria Bourda
Correspondent

Chapel Hill Police Department and Orange County are partnering to establish a 24-hour mobile crisis response team. Introduced as the Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement (CARE) team, it will respond to crisis calls that do not require the involvement of law enforcement in person or virtually.

To share more on the new initiative, Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew spoke with the Town of Chapel Hill newsroom. “We know from the experience of our longstanding crisis unit that many calls involving behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse require a specialized response. Therefore, Orange County’s 911 call center will now be home to a crisis counselor who will be an integral part of the CARE team and the holistic response within the community”, said Lehew.

“When necessary, the crisis counselor in the 911 call center will divert non-emergency calls from in-person responses.” Chapel Hill newsroom stated in a press release. “In addition, the appointed counselor may be able to provide remote support to callers before first responders or members of the CARE team arrive.”

The Crisis Unit Team is headquartered inside the Chapel Hill Police Department, located at 828 MLK Jr Blvd. The unit offers many programs and initiatives, such as community outreach, a crisis negotiation team, domestic violence resources, first responder support, and case consultation.

Situations that the unit responds to include:

  • Intimate partner or sexual violence
  • Victims of crimes (assault, burglary/home invasion, armed robbery, child abuse/assault)
  • Persons experiencing psychiatric emergencies or persistent mental health concerns
  • Situations requiring safety planning and lethality assessments (suicidal or homicidal subjects)
  • Runaway juveniles and missing persons
  • Hostages or barricaded persons
  • Traumas, including fires, natural disasters, and accidents involving serious injury or death
  • Incidents involving multiple victims in need of debriefing, including first responders
  • Stalking or harassment
  • Death notifications
  • Outreach to vulnerable persons

Kirby Saunders, Orange County Emergency Services Director, recently told The Local Reporter, “The CARE team’s goal is to respond to situations that do not pose a grave public safety danger and provide direct and indirect support to those in need where they are.” Saunders believes that this comprehensive approach will profoundly impact and improve outcomes for those in crisis.

“Welcoming a crisis counselor into our 911 call center is groundbreaking,” said Saunders. “ This counselor will be able to provide support to community members over the telephone while at the same time assisting in determining the most appropriate support or response. We believe the counselor will become an invaluable resource and Orange County is excited to help expand the great work that the police department has been doing for more than 50 years. Adding the additional skills of a peer support specialist with lived experience and an EMT with medical expertise to evaluate and treat minor conditions medically is an evidence-based best practice,” said Saunders.

“The mobile portion of the CARE team consists of another crisis counselor, a peer support specialist – someone who has lived experience of the challenges vulnerable community members face – and a community emergency medical technician,” said the Town of Chapel Hill press release.

“Through the CARE Team, Chapel Hill will be able to divert 911 crisis calls to a team that will provide an evidence-based therapeutic response that is safe and holistic.”

Kim Woodward, Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services, shared with the Chapel Hill newsroom, “Orange County Emergency Services is excited to embed our first Community EMT on the CARE Team. This experienced EMT can provide first aid and wound care and will augment the team in crisis support. Moreover, this EMT will benefit from bridging the traditional EMS response to the crisis response when necessary.”

Chapel Hill’s expansion of its crisis response team comes just two years after the CHPD Crisis Unit was recognized as a model unit and a pioneer in the foundation of national Co-Responder Crisis Units.

By having a dedicated group of individuals that make up a 24-hour emergency response team, Former Chapel Hill Police Department Chief of Police Chris Blue shared with TLR in the earlier article,  “Our team’s ability to recognize the important differences between incidents involving persons experiencing mental health crises and those with genuine law enforcement needs greatly increases our community’s service, trust, and safety level.” Blue added, “ This is a critical conversation that is finally occurring in many communities. We are proud to have led the way.”

As CHPD is on the forefront of crisis units statewide, the police department added Laverne Burton, a peer support specialist who engages peers (or people who have experienced similar life circumstances) in a collaborative, caring support relationship. Since stepping into her new role in June of 2022, Burton’s focus has been mainly on the Franklin Street area, where many unsheltered residents can be found. Burton said she responds to assignments delegated by the Crisis Unit stemming from police calls.

Moving forward, The UNC School of Government will help evaluate the program. A community-based advisory team will share input to help guide the program into the future and its anticipated coverage throughout the county within two years. The number to the CHDP Crisis Unit is (919) 968-2806.


Tyria McCray-Bourda is a story-driven journalist whose work also appears in The Carolinian newspaper in Raleigh. With a bachelor’s in journalism & mass communication from North Carolina A&T State University, she has the distinction of having interviewed President Joe Biden when he was a candidate on the campaign trail and Vice President Kamala Harris.
This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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1 Comment on "Chapel Hill, Orange County expands crisis response team"

  1. Caroline McGaughey | July 8, 2024 at 7:11 am | Reply

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