Feature

Joel Fay, PsyD, has been a police officer since 1975 and a psychologist since 1999.

"As I was growing older in my law enforcement career, I recognized that so much of what we do involves psychology, whether it's sitting down with someone who you have just arrested or out in the field trying to talk somebody into peacefully surrendering," he says.

So, he earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology and uses that training to head up the San Rafael Mental Health Liaison Program, which helps mentally ill homeless people stay out of jail and get treatment. Many of these individuals had been going through a revolving door of arrest, jail time, brief treatment and then returning to old patterns once treatment failed or ended--leading to another arrest. Police officers and mental health agencies alike were frustrated with the cycle, Fay says.

In response, Fay designed a countywide program that allows the police and the community to work hand-in-hand to help mentally ill people get treatment instead of jail time. Through the program, every Marin County police department has a designated mental health liaison, a police officer who serves as the point person for other officers concerned about the mental health of an offender or potential offender. The liaison presents pertinent information about at-risk offenders at a monthly meeting of the county's Forensic Multidisciplinary Team, made up of representatives from community agencies, such as health and mental health centers, the district attorney's office, probation officers and housing programs. The team comes up with a plan to provide the individual with the necessary services--say, finding housing and substance abuse treatment for a homeless woman caught trespassing--and reviews the progress of each case the following month.

"We have a no-quit and never-give-up policy," says Fay. "Once a person is referred to us, we never stop trying to get that person into treatment."

For example, two years ago Fay began reaching out to a homeless man, David, who had lived on a San Rafel hillside since 1989. Fay presented David's situation to the Forensic Multidisciplinary Team, which tried to develop an outreach plan, but after David repeatedly refused help, Fay placed him in a psychiatric crisis unit. Then, Fay tracked down the man's family, who explained that David was once a successful professional until he began exhibiting schizophrenic-like symptoms, and then vanished. That information was enough to help the psychiatrists treating David determine the right treatment for his mental illness, and he eventually left the hospital to enter a community assisted-living program.

Fay's program has been so successful that the group now receives referrals from community mental health agencies and other groups that express concern that an individual's mental illness might result in an arrest.

"There can be a tremendous connection between the mental health field and law enforcement," says Fay. "If you find a way of talking to each other, you'll find that we're working toward the same goal and a lot could be accomplished."

--D. SMITH