HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said he has told police to search immediately for mental health counselors to accompany officers on calls involving people under high stress who could hurt themselves or others.
Police Chief Alan DeNaro said two recent violent incidents — an attack on a woman and her pregnant daughter in their neighborhood, and a man beaten to death at a Winter Street apartment building — caused the mayor to speed up the process of hiring the counselors to work with police.
The two men charged in the incidents are being evaluated for mental competence before their court cases move forward. DeNaro said hiring the counselors would allow police to create a program documenting residents with mental health issues who could become violent. That, he said, is a benefit in addition to the counselors riding with officers on calls involving people under great stress.
In December, DeNaro requested permission to hire a counselor to work with police, as high-profile incidents involving police responses to mental health and drug abuse calls were happening across the country — sometimes resulting in violence and even death. At that time, the mayor said he would consider the request when he reviewed the chief's proposed Police Department budget. But after the two violent incidents in Haverhill involving the women who were attacked and the man who was killed, the mayor is looking to speed up the process, DeNaro said.
DeNaro said he wants to hire at least one and preferably two counselors to work with officers assigned to behavioral response teams. He said he wants the Police Department to start using the teams in May.
Fiorentini said he would like to spend enough money for at least one mental health counselor on top of $80,000 for two social workers already contained in the police budget. The people in those positions work under contract with NFI-Massachusetts, a local nonprofit. They help police arrange treatment for drug addicts and provide grief counseling for families of overdose victims.
The mayor said he hopes to use money Haverhill will receive from the federal American Rescue Act to hire the counselors DeNaro wants to ride with officers on calls involving people under emotional stress.
According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, Haverhill will receive $38 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money, with half of that money arriving next month and the other half coming to the city a year later. Details on how the money can be spent are still being worked out between the federal government and communities.
Local agency provides help
DeNaro said he recently spoke with representatives from Lahey Behavioral Health Services in Haverhill to discuss the professional requirements for the mental health counselors being sought by the Police Department. He said he will send Lahey additional information, with expectations that Lahey will respond with a list of requirements for such counselors and possibly provide the Police Department with counselors on a contract basis.
"I'd like to see two (counselors hired), which would give us two-thirds of the week covered as only one clinician would cover 40 hours a week, which isn't a lot," DeNaro said, explaining he'd eventually like around-the-clock coverage seven days a week by counselors.
"We've had over 300 mental health calls since Jan. 1,'' DeNaro said, "everything from an unruly, emotional child in a school to a (military) veteran with PTSD to someone on the autism spectrum or someone with mental health issues, whether they were born with them or resulting from drug or alcohol use. There is a lot of room for intervention."
He said police do not know the size of Haverhill's mental health population and that a behavioral response unit would establish a data base containing that information. The data base would help police develop a system to track mentally ill residents who could become dangerous, he said.
"We want to know if we have potentially dangerous individuals who might need services or monitoring to ensure they are on their meds," the chief said. "Right now we have no comprehensive list that would identity people such as those who were involved in the recent stabbing in the Liberty Street area or the homicide on Winter Street."
Men charged in attacks evaluated
The Liberty Street area stabbing DeNaro referred to involved Jake Kavanaugh, 23, of 15 Fairview Farm Road, who police said drove his car into Janet Blanchard, 54, and her pregnant daughter, Geena Sindoni, 26, while the women were out for a walk near Blanchard’s home on the afternoon of March 3. After the crash, Kavanaugh got out of the car and used a box cutter to attack Blanchard, stabbing her neck and face, police said.
At his arraignment March 4 in Haverhill District Court, Kavanaugh was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.
According to documents in Haverhill District Court, Kavanaugh was charged on April 29, 2019, with assault and battery on a household member. A police report says Kavanaugh's girlfriend called 911 three days earlier to report he aggressively grabbed her wrist during an argument and dug his nails into her skin. The report said officers were sent to Kavanaugh's home at 15 Fairview Farm Road and questioned his parents, who told police their son has "mental health issues and anger issues," according to the report.
The Winter Street death DeNaro referred to happened in mid-March. On March 12, Diecryk Garcia, 35, of 127 Winter St., Apt. 5, was arraigned in Haverhill District Court on charges that he used a pipe to beat to death John Rosado, 34, of Haverhill.
Investigators said that on the afternoon of March 11, Rosado was found bleeding profusely from head wounds on the sidewalk outside the Winter Street apartment building where Garcia lives. Investigators said Rosado did not live in the building. They have released no other information about him or what led to the killing.
During a court hearing, defense lawyer Ron Ranta asked that Garcia not be arraigned. “I don’t believe he’s competent at this time to understand the proceedings,” Ranta said. The judge did arraign Garcia, but also ordered that he undergo a mental health evaluation.
DeNaro said the behavioral response unit involving teams of counselors and police officers would track residents such as the men charged in the two recent violent crimes in Haverhill, "both of whom who had long-standing issues with mental health."
"It would be a data base for people who we have been dealing with," he said. "If we went to your house and had to have you committed, or if we go to a house and a child is acting up and hitting a parent or is running away, and we find the child has mental health issues, these are the types of things this unit would try to assist with."