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Burlington Police Release Review of Mental Health Policies

The Burlington Police Department has released a report about its mental health response options.
BURLINGTON, Vt. - The Burlington Police Department has released a report about its mental health response options.

It details steps police have already taken to improve their mental health responses and outlines possible changes for the department.

This seven page report comes in response to a difficult time in Burlington.

In the past five-years, there has been a staggering increase in mental health related calls to police and one in November which lead to a man's death.

Months after police shot and killed 49-year-old Wayne Brunette, his widow pleaded for change in how police respond to mental health related calls.

The death hit Burlington City Councilor Dave Hartnett especially hard. He had been a friend of Brunette's.

"He was a husband, a dad, he had two beautiful daughters. In some many ways Wayne was no different than you and I," says Hartnett.

Hartnett, backed by the council, asked for a review of police procedures. That resulted in a recently released seven-page report of the department's mental health response options.

"Obviously, I think it's a step in the right direction," says Hartnett.

This details what police have already done and also includes possible changes; such as a new mental health policy, more training for officers, and having  a trained staff member not an officer respond to mental health calls when there is not a public threat.

Hartnett thinks those are good ideas but he also wants dispatchers to ask more specific questions of callers.

"Why I think that's so important is dispatch can relay that to the officers in route and that would give them talking points when they get there, kind of defuse the situation," says Hartnett.

While it's not clear the changes could have prevented Brunette's death, Hartnett hopes it helps restore people's trust in Burlington police.

"We're picking up the pieces and we're getting through it and we're going to work together to make sure something like this doesn't happen again," says Hartnett.

Burlington's police chief says he didn't want to talk about the report as is until after it's been presented to the police commission next week.
   
Right now, it's in a draft stage.

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