Dennis Police mental health task force makes impact in first six months, according to members – Cape Cod Times


The Dennis Police Department publicly introduced a special unit that emphasizes assisting instead of arresting those involved in mental health episodes or substance use incidents.
On Thursday, about 20 people attended the town’s debut of a new Mental Health Task Force (MHTF) at the Dennis Public Library. The task force, which was officially unveiled in December 2021, includes three clinicians, a victim advocate and officers trained in crisis intervention.
The team of experts was created out of a need for assistance with rising mental health-related reports received by police, officials said.
“In the past, it was like, you screwed up, we put you in handcuffs,” Dennis Police Sgt. Ryan Carr said. “But now it’s like, you screwed up, what happened for you to get there?”
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Dennis Police Chief John Brady said the idea for the task force started with crisis intervention training given to the town’s police and fire personnel. It eventually shifted to include input from advocacy groups and community members.
A grant from the state Department of Mental Health in 2021 enabled town officials to provide the group the full support and funding it needed.
“I’ve been blown away by the impact,” Carr said. “It’s hard to measure, because some of the cases we work with are sometimes preventative, but there has definitely been an impact.”
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Police officers received 40 hours of training over five days. They’re instructed in crisis intervention from community organizations, advocacy groups and representatives from the District Attorney’s office.
“In the past, we were just doing the best we could,” Brady said.
Although originally stemming from recent increases in mental health-related police calls, the task force members also work with children and family services, sexual assault survivors and people with substance use disorders, organizers said.
Lynn Carlson, a social worker on the task force, said making connections and establishing communication are paramount to the team’s work.
For example, if the Dennis police department receives a report that could be related to mental health, Carlson and one of the trained officers travel to the location together. Instead of arresting the person, they have direct conversations about what will benefit the person immediately and in the long run.
“What we want to highlight is the partnership with the police department and community agencies,” Carlson said. “It’s all about connectivity, linking constituents to support systems.”
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Kathy Pedini, a victims services coordinator who focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault follow-ups, said she started this work when the then-police chief would ask her to do follow-ups on people who overdosed.
“Now that we have the grant we’ve hit our groove,” she said. “Watching this kind of work get done, it’s incredible. We’ve had a lot of success with jail diversion.”
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She echoed Carlson about the importance of community interconnectivity.
“A lot of times individuals lack knowledge, they just don’t know where to go for help,” Pedini said. “We’re working to reduce the stigma. It’s time, and it’s happening with events like this.”
Justine Podurgiel, a part-time clinician with the task force focusing on child and family follow-ups and de-escalation, said even though she’d only worked with the task force since December, she’s already seen its impact in the Dennis community.
Bill Hawkes, a recovery support navigator at Duffy Health Center, has also seen the effect the task force has on Dennis.
“It was definitely needed in the community, the support from the Dennis Police Department is amazing,” he said at the event. “Now I can send a text and get someone into detox that day. It’s definitely had an impact.”

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