Mental Health Clinician Begins Work Supporting Burlington Police Department


Burlington Police Department
Michael R. Kent
Chief of Police
45 Center Street
Burlington, MA 01803

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018

Media Contact: John Guilfoil
Phone: 617-993-0003
Email: [email protected]

Mental Health Clinician Begins Work Supporting Burlington Police Department

Mental Health Clinician Karen DiRienzo and Capt. Gregory Skehan. (Courtesy Photo)

BURLINGTON — Now weeks into her new role, the Burlington Police Department’s new mental health clinician has begun making progress working with officers to support residents and their mental health needs.

Karen DiRienzo, a veteran social worker and Burlington resident, joined the department in November. Since taking on the role as the department’s first mental health clinician, she has started the work of establishing relationships with residents, officers and stakeholders in the mental health community.

“I was thrilled to see a focus on mental health come to Burlington,” DiRienzo said. “The pairing of mental health care and law enforcement really resonated with me.”

As she navigates the beginning phases of her work with the Burlington Police’s mental health unit, DiRienzo is working to establish relationships with a variety of community organizations, including town departments and healthcare organizations, so that they can combine to provide a more cohesive response when mental health crises arise.

In many cases, police officers are the first to come into contact with individuals suffering from mental health concerns. DiRienzo will ultimately be positioned as a resource who will co-respond to mental health related calls, bridging the gap between first responders and mental health clinicians who may come into contact with those individuals later.

The Cummings Foundation awards $10 million each year through its $100K for 100 Communities grant program. Awardees typically include those supporting local causes, such as human services, education, healthcare and social justice. This is the second time in four years that Burlington Police have earned this $100,000 competitive grant from the Cummings Foundation.

In addition to DiRienzo’s position, the grant supports training for department members to identify people suffering from mental health disorders and deescalate situations involving those individuals. As part of its commitment to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s One Mind Campaign, 100 percent of Burlington Police personnel will ultimately be trained in mental health first aid.

“Our officers are going to be better equipped to recognize when people are in crisis and deescalate those situations and provide them with the help they need,” said Capt. Gregory Skehan, who oversees the newly formed mental health unit. “Having Karen as a resource within the department means we can follow up with people in need and we can have a much greater chance of ensuring people don’t fall through the cracks.”

The Burlington Mental Health Initiative will provide a direct resource for those living with a broad range of mental health disorders, including Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicidal tendencies, depression, ADHD and substance use disorders, among others.

The grant will sustain DiRienzo’s part-time position with the department for 2 1/2 years, which she’ll spend working hand-in-hand with other units within the department to support their work to address substance use, domestic violence and more in the community.