Behavioral Health Team established to help Buffalo Police handle mental health calls

Sep 15, 2020

Starting in October, Buffalo Police will be calling for social workers trained to deal with acute mental health crises in 911 cases that vex law enforcement.

The confrontation between a group of police officers and Willie Henley on Saturday wound up with Henley in Erie County Medical Center with a bullet wound. With a history of mental illness, he allegedly hit Officer Alyssa Peron with his metal baseball bat and Officer Karl Schultz shot him. None sustained a life-threatening injury, but the incident is not unusual in America, with police the front line of the mental health system.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the incident happened a day after the Police Benevolent Association agreed to a new Behavioral Health Team.

"PBA signing this memorandum of understanding signals a change in culture," Brown said. "A joint initiative of the Buffalo Police Department and Endeavor Health Services will be deployed into the field and provide our Police Department with an additional tool that they can utilize to help ensure mental or behavioral health crisis calls can be peacefully resolved."

Led by Capt. Amber Beyer, a team of officers will work with a team from Endeavor Health Services, three clinicians and a program supervisor. While the team will work days Monday through Friday, they will be available "as needed."

Beyer said she can't comment on Saturday's events.

"I wasn't in that officer's shoes at the time and I wasn't there to play a role in what that officer was thinking and what level of danger he felt him and his fellow officers were in at the time, so I can't really say what should have gone down," she said. "I think talking to that officer maybe down the line, we'll think about, he can say, what he would have maybe needed, if anything would have changed."

In a statement, PBA President John Evans said he hopes the new unit will make things safer for officers and the public at large.