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Ayer, Littleton, Westford, Boxboro police to share co-response clinician

Susan Lemere will respond with police to calls involving mental health or substance use disorders

Working with police in Ayer, Littleton, Westford and Boxboro, co-response clinician Susan Lemere will be available to respond to calls for service involving mental health or substance use disorder. (Courtesy Susan Lemere)
Working with police in Ayer, Littleton, Westford and Boxboro, co-response clinician Susan Lemere will be available to respond to calls for service involving mental health or substance use disorder. (Courtesy Susan Lemere)

Four area police departments announced plans last week to share the services of a co-response clinician who will accompany police on emergency calls involving mental health crises and substance use disorders.

Susan Lemere will be available to police departments in Ayer, Littleton, Westford and Boxboro with the goal to provide onsite counseling, while helping de-escalate situations and diverting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis from potential arrest.

Lemere will also provide follow-up care and offer resources for community-based support.

The announcement comes as mental health calls become more frequent.

“When we can provide proper services for an individual experiencing a mental health crisis thereby keeping that individual out of the courts because of an arrest, then we are doing our job promoting the guardian mindset in policing, as opposed to the warrior mindset,” Boxboro Police Chief John Szewczyk said.

Lemere has previously served as a co-responder in Vermont, where she worked with police departments in Montpelier and Barre City, as well as Washington County Mental Health Services.

Lemere, who has a master’s degree from Smith College, in Northampton, is currently a doctoral candidate at UMass Amherst.

“I believe strongly in the co-response model and look forward to collaborating with police here to serve the community,” Lemere said.

The addition of Lemere as a co-response clinician is an expansion of the Community Outreach Initiative Network jail diversion program, or COIN, of which the Ayer, Boxboro, Littleton and Westford police departments are members.

COIN, a program of the nonprofit Family Continuity, has been working since 2016 to help residents receive mental health, substance use disorder, and other community-based supports. COIN’s expansion will allow a clinician to respond to 911 calls at the time of crisis to offer immediate support.

“We are very fortunate to have a co-response clinician of Susan’s high quality working with us and enhancing the services we have available through our partnership with the COIN program,” Westford Police Chief Mark Chambers said. “We owe it to our residents to take advantage of these opportunities to provide additional support to those experiencing a mental health or substance misuse crisis.”

The move to pursue a co-response clinician follows in the footsteps of other area departments, including the Lowell Police Department, which launched their Co-Response Jail Diversion Program in July 2021. Currently, the department has two full-time co-response clinicians on staff who are dispatched with police on mental health calls.

A year after the program’s launch, the department released statistics showing the clinicians worked with police to divert a total of 22 people from arrest.

Using a formula from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, Lowell Police estimated the diversions saved the criminal justice system $55,440.

Lowell Police also revealed a year after the program’s launch that the two clinicians helped officers divert another 56 people from unnecessary emergency room visits, saving the health care system an estimated $224,000.

“This program is effective, compassionate, and part of a vitally needed response to a growing issue,” then-Acting Lowell Police Superintendent Barry Golner said in July 2022, referencing a mental health crisis, which he said has posed an “enormous challenge” on law enforcement and first responders.

With police reform being a hot-button topic nationwide, the co-response model has become a popular choice for departments.

“The challenge of our nation’s mental health crisis has been thrust upon us, and we are working to meet that challenge with professionalism and compassion,” Littleton Police Chief Matthew Pinard said.

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis