Erie Police Department re-establishes Crisis Car unit to respond to mental-health calls

The Erie Police Department has re-established a Crisis Car unit to help address a growing number of mental-health-related calls in the city.

Ten officers who applied for the unit have completed specialized training in mental health crises, substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicidal individuals. Combined training with numerous local service providers ensures that these officers can handle difficult situations when people need help the most.

The Crisis Car operates with two officers on each of the three daily police shifts: 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., 3 – 11 p.m., and 11 p.m. – 7 a.m.

The Erie Police Department unveiled a new police car to their fleet during the EPD’s Family and Friends open house on May 6, 2023. Shown from left are three members of the newly re-established Crisis Car unit: Patrolman William Fischer, Sgt. Marc Bellotti, Crisis Car unit supervisor; and Patrolman Anastacio Stewart. A team of ten officers with specialized training in mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicidal individuals will help address the growing number of mental-health related calls in the city.

Prior to being assigned to this unit, all officers had a minimum of two years of experience with the Erie Police Department. They received 40 hours of training from:

  • Crisis Center at UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Harbor
  • Mental Health Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania
  • Erie County Office of Children and Youth
  • LECOM Health | Millcreek Community Hospital
  • AHN | Saint Vincent Hospital

The Crisis Car team also took part in virtual reality training at Mercyhurst University’s Municipal Police Training Academy. The VR program focused on the team’s crisis response and de-escalation training.

The team’straining will be ongoing and is designed to help address the needs of the community.

“Our goal is to develop relationships with not only the service providers of all local agencies,” said Erie Police Chief Daniel Spizarny on Monday. “But to also build relationships with our community to assist in providing the best services possible.”

The last time the Erie Police Department deployed a mental health unit like the Crisis Car Unit was in the early 2000s, said Spizarny. It was shut down during department downsizing, but an allocation of ARP funds has given the department the ability to restart this important unit.

Crisis intervention is a unique type of policing.

“These officers are helping people with mental health issues,” said Chief Spizarny. “Often, that takes time. I expect this dedicated, trained unit will solve some of these issues, not just pause the problem.”

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