LEWISTON — Since he was sworn into office as the city’s new police chief in January, Brian O’Malley has overseen a number of policy changes, some driven by him, others necessitated by events in the community, he told the Sun Journal recently.
Among those policies O’Malley brought to local law enforcement were the creation of a “peer support team” and a “critical incident stress management policy.” Both are aimed at addressing “highly emotionally charged incidents” to which officers respond.
“Police officers today are expected to fill the role of social worker, mental health counselor and substance abuse counselor,” O’Malley said. “That is a lot to ask of a 23- or 24-year-old.”
He said his officers and detectives “oftentimes see people at their worst and in the worst situations. Over the past year, there have been high-profile incidents involving the deaths of a 13-year-old who committed suicide and a 2-year-old who was killed after being struck by a vehicle.”
The peer support team is composed of sworn officers recognized by their colleagues as reliable and knowledgeable, and who act as a confidential support person to their colleagues. Though not certified as counselors, support team members have been trained and are aware of outside support programs for referral purposes, he said.
An example of a policy adopted by O’Malley in the face of an unexpected crisis was the training of officers in the use of Narcan, the opioid overdose drug.
“One of the most surprising situations is that people look to the police to solve the opioid crisis,” he said.
Since that training, his officers have used the antidote “many times to save the life of someone who has overdosed,” O’Malley said.
“Unfortunately, after saving someone’s life the work is just beginning and there needs to be more work done by the state and federal government in order to obtain treatment for those with substance abuse issues,” he said. “The police department has been portrayed as just arresting people (that they deal with) who have opioid abuse issues and that is not true. We have provided information to those who have overdosed on treatment options, such as providing cards to the local methadone clinic.”
His department is a member of “commUNITY,” a group of regional agencies and departments joining forces in an effort to battle the opioid epidemic for the long term, he said.
Working directly with Bates College and its neighbors, O’Malley and his department played a central role in the city’s crafting of new ordinances to address issues concerning noise and neighborhood disturbances.
But, O’Malley concluded, “the thing that I’m most proud of is the work that the officers, detectives, supervisors and civilian employees do every day at the Police Department serving the citizens of Lewiston.”
Lewiston Chief of Police, Brian O’Malley. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)