Steve Laroche

Milton Police Chief Steve Laroche, seen here in a Milton Independent file photo, spoke with the Milton selectboard last week about the need for a mental health counselor to assist police.

A discussion of the Milton Police Dept. budget for fiscal year 2021 became a discussion of the need for a mental health clinician to work with police, following a question from selectboard member Chris Taylor at a special budget meeting on Dec. 11.

Taylor asked about an embedded clinician to work with police after Milton Police Chief Steve Laroche said the department had responded to 196 mental health calls so far this year. “We had two today,” he said. “Pretty intense for the officers. That’s what’s driving our call volume.”

The department has responded to more than 9,000 incidents so far this year.

“We’re one of the only agencies in Chittenden County, police agencies, that’s not supported by a community outreach worker by Howard Mental Health,” Laroche said.

When the department reached out to Howard, they were told Milton’s call volume meant they would need their own clinician, rather than being able to share one with another agency. “That’s pretty much where the conversation stopped, because you’re talking about adding an employee at $80,000,” said Laroche.

Clinicians have been a success in other communities, he added. “And I think this community definitely needs it.”

Town manager Don Turner agreed, suggesting clinicians have helped to lower call volumes. Larcohe said that clinicians can reduce repeat calls for the same person.

“We do believe it’s a good idea,” said Turner. “Where do you find the money?”

Some Chittenden County police departments have been able to share clinicians. “The big thing that they’re seeing is the followup the next day, offering the support and services that they’re lacking,” said Laroche. “That’s what this community is lacking. We don’t have the resources or time to do the followup.”

Turner and Laroche were asked about possibly sharing a mental health worker with an agency in Franklin County.

They have looked into that possibility, Turner explained. Because Northwestern Counseling & Support Services is the designated agency for Franklin County and Howard Mental Health is the designated agency for Chittenden County, “we have to deal with Howard,” he said.

All of the board members agreed that the board and staff should continue to look for ways to embed a counselor with the Milton Police.

“It’s the greatest need that we have,” said Laroche. “Mental health is a serious crisis in this community.”

A board member asked if that was because of addiction.

“Both cases today were not drug-related,” Turner said.

There was a bit of good news. Drug overdoses have declined in Milton and are down 50 percent in Chittenden County as a whole. “The rest of the state is not having that luck,” Laroche said.

As for the budget itself, the proposed budget is $2.03 million for a fully-staffed department with 17 officers. After deducting anticipated revenue, taxpayers would end up paying $1.9 million to support the department.

Within the capital budget for the department is a lease for a new fingerprint machine. The current machine is 11 years old and runs on Windows XP, Laroche said.

Replacement of a cruiser is also in the budget at a cost of $56,000, along with a repeater at a cost of $32,000. This is also the last year of a four-year replacement of the department’s radios at a cost of $15,000.

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