Healthy minds for healthy lives


TPC Partners with Local Police Departments

Posted: Thu, April 13, 2017

By: Jake Bissaro

It’s an unfortunate fact that the American criminal justice system has become a destination for many people with untreated mental illnesses. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition.

In an effort to address the root cause, The Providence Center has partnered with local police departments to embed clinical therapists that work together with officers to de-escalate situations that involve mental health. These “police clinicians” conduct on-site clinical assessments and in some cases connect individuals with the appropriate treatment services.

The program started in 2012 when TPC police clinician Jessica Zira joined the Providence Police Department. After that program was successful, TPC worked with Warwick Police to identify a need for services there, and brought on Maureen Gouveia to serve that city in 2014.  

“Maureen’s work has been a great asset to our department,” said Warwick Police Chief Stephen McCartney. “Getting people involved with the right mental health services helps them find a better path, and makes our job in the community much easier.”

Both clinicians have handheld police radios, and can get called to real life situations as they’re happening. Between the two, Zira and Gouveia record more than 600 encounters per year.

But this position is about more than being in the field, according to Zira. “We’re de-escalating a situation at first, but we then also follow up on individual cases and make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.”

In addition to their day-to-day duties, Zira and Gouveia have worked to bring a great deal of knowledge to their respective departments. Gouveia chairs a monthly meeting that brings officers designated mental health specialists together to talk about strategies for responding to a person undergoing a psychiatric crisis.

Zira helped to roll out 15 four-hour mental health trainings for the entire Providence Police Department (500 officers), through paid overtime from a federal grant. The training may become mandatory for all police officers in Rhode Island in the future. Both Zira and Gouveia also run trainings for new recruits at both police academies.

In recent months, The Providence Center has also begun a police clinician partnership with the West Warwick Police Department focusing on drug overdose prevention, and will be adding a second police clinician in Providence with the help of a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation.