BURRILLVILLE – From older town residents with Alzheimer’s disease, to children diagnosed with autism who have particular needs and dislikes, Col. Stephen Lynch says that staff at the Burrillville Police Department knows the community, understands the challenges some face, and can be very good at deescalating difficult situations.
Now, the chief hopes to document that internal knowledge to ensure that all officers in the department understand how to best help those in need.
Lynch has devised the MURPH program, a new system named after Michael Patrick Murphy, a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who died in Afghanistan in 2005 after exposing himself to a hail of enemy fire in order to save his team.
“He protected guys that needed help and that’s what these guys do every day,” Lynch said of his staff.
Lynch said he came up with the idea of establishing a database of those with special needs in Burrillville after reading about a similar program implemented by a police department in Texas.
“When I read about the other program, it made a lot of sense, and we deal with people that have these types of struggles,” Lynch said. “Our mental health calls are substantial.”
Those struggles include family members who suffer from mental illness that go missing, children triggered by things such as uniforms who might flee from officers, and residents with dementia who become confused.
“Those are moments of intense fright for the families,” said Lynch. “We’re just trying to get in front of these situations as much as possible. I think life is hard enough for them.”
The MURPH system, he said, will help his team to understand the residents’ particular needs, and inform officers on how to best calm various situations and get resources.
The database is an optional service open to anyone in the community who chooses to take part. Residents can provide officers with only the information they want to share, or fill out a complete questionnaire to be entered into the database, including a photograph of the individual. Forms can be obtained by calling the department at (401) 568-6255 and saying you would like to enroll, and information can then be submitted by mail. or through a one-on-one visit with an officer, depending on preference.
The end result will be a formal database used as a tool by police called to help with emergency situations, from missing persons, to violent encounters involving those with unique needs.
“Those present challenges for us, and it really does a job on the families. If they’re calling us, they’re in a moment of crisis,” Lynch said. “We’re trying to get as much information as we can to deal with people in the best way possible.”
To create MURPH, the colonel says he formed a volunteer committee within the department. Administrative Aide to the Colonel Lisa Rabideau, he noted, is the, “ultimate organizer,” and has helped to guide the project.
“It’s really a team,” Lynch said.
“The idea is to collect the same type of information on every person,” said Rabideau, noting that she herself is the parent of an autistic child who might react to police with fear. Specific situations may vary, Rabideau noted, from a child with an aversion to being touched, to a town resident with Down syndrome who has physical limitations the family wants officers to understand.
“There’s no judgement here as to why,” Rabideau said of the decision to register. “It’s a matter of if families want to share that with us. We want to help.”
The department posted an announcement of the program last week on social media and received their first call within a few hours. Sgt. Brian Pitts set up an appointment to meet with the family, and will put the information in the new records management system.
As an example of when the information might be useful, Pitts pointed to the case of a person who recently suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“They face all kids of physical and mental challenges,” Pitts said. “Hopefully this is a resource they can use too.”
Once information is entered in the database, officers and dispatch receive immediate alerts of the condition whenever an individual’s name comes up on a call.
“Rather than have it just be word of mouth, now we have a database and informational system that will fill all of our people in,” said Lynch. “Our people are really good with those in crisis.”
The chief noted that many residents have entered information on a statewide special needs registry, but his officers are not given that information on a call-by-call basis.
“This is a real time system that we were able to create with our own software and our own database,” Lynch said, noting that in the case of a missing person, having photos and data saves time – which could potentially help to save lives.
“If they’re calling us, they need us, and I want to get our people in the best situation to help,” Lynch said. “There’s all different levels where people have challenges, and it’s just a matter of people being able to entrust that information with us and know what our goal is.”
To learn more, or register in the MURPH system, call the department at (401) 568-6255 or email MURPH@burrillville.org.