Colonie families sign up for Handle with Care registry
COLONIE – Vicki Mallory’s son, William Mallory-Anderson, sometimes sneaks out to try to find his grandparents.
“A split cape house, that’s what my mom has, with black shutters,” said Mallory. “Any house that was white, he would go to and go inside and think that that was my mom’s house.”
Mallory signed Billy up for Project Lifesaver, and now the new Handle with Care Registry with Colonie Police.
“They knew who Billy was because I immediately called them and told them, and it’s happened enough times that a lot of them know who Billy is,” she said. “And I’m very thankful for that.”
However, what if they didn’t know Billy, but thought he was a burglar instead?
“What we hear from families is that they’re worried about their loved ones encountering law enforcement,” said Colonie Police Deputy Chief James Gerace. “And what we want to be able to do is to provide that information which will calm the situation down rapidly to our officers in the field for use.”
Handle with Care is a registry with information about things like triggers, or calming methods. The voluntary registry for families is an easy form to fill out online.
On the police side, officers can share information with each other, too, which is especially helpful for the new officers coming in.
“So we do have many officers that are going to these type of calls for the very first time,” said Colonie Police Chief Michael Woods. “And our police department, we handle close to 3,000 mental health related calls a year.”
“In crisis communication, one of the most challenging things for officers is being able to develop a rapport with a person in crisis,” Gerace said.
To get a look at the registry in action, police took NewsChannel 13 through a fictional call involving a person with mental illness, from dispatch, to interaction.
“911 what is the address of the emergency?” said Colonie Senior Dispatcher Anthony DiScipio, as he starts the demonstration.
In this mock scenario, Sergeant Joseph Fitzsimmons is the distraught man.
Sergeant Anthony Sidoti gets the information in the car for an adult male who left on foot there, very emotional and upset.
“So dispatch has advised me that the person we’re looking for is part of our Handle with Care registry,” he said.
He sees that the man likes to be called Joseph, and that he doesn’t like loud noises.
“So these are all good things that without the registry I wouldn’t know, which help me get off on the right foot and hopefully have a positive encounter with Joseph,” said Sidoti.
He arrives with a little bit of background that could make a very big difference.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness worked with Colonie police on this registry, which could serve as a model for other departments.
“Although I pause there, because other communities will need to have the culture built of the crisis response in the most compassionate way that we like it to be,” said NAMI NYS Executive Director Sharon Horton. “Town of Colonie police have obviously done that.”
Colonie has spent a lot of time on de-escalation training.
Mallory had no hesitation signing up for a registry that could help her son.
“Really, what we’re trying to do is encourage anyone who has loved ones or family members that would benefit from this, we want to encourage them to sign up for the registry,” Gerace said.
“People avail themselves to it, the Colonie police have been very professional and helpful,” said Mallory. “And I am grateful to every single one of them that, you know, every instance that they’ve had with Billy has been a positive one.”