Joe Philippon at a Special Olympics doughnut-eating contest with AJ Beaudoin. Courtesy of Joe Philippon

LEWISTON — We rode alongside Lewiston Police Community Resource Officer Joe Philippon and Tri-County Mental Health crisis worker David Bilodeau in December of 2018 to focus on a newly relaunched initiative called “Project Support You.” The program pairs crisis workers with police officers to help treat those suffering from mental health issues and substance misuse disorder.

Name: Joe Philippon

Age: 35

Hometown: Lewiston

To start, do you mind telling me a little bit about yourself? What brought you to Lewiston PD and what’s your role in the department? I was born in Calcutta, India (now Kolkata), and was adopted about a month after I was born. I arrived on Mother’s Day in 1984. I grew up and currently live in Lewiston. I attended St. Peter’s School, where Community Concepts is located, and graduated from St. Dom’s in 2002. I have a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from the University of Maine at Augusta and have been a police officer for the city of Lewiston since 2005. This June will be my 14th year on the department and I am currently assigned to the Community Resource Team, where I have been for the last 6 years. Originally, I wanted to be a cook, but after a few ride-alongs with some former students of my parents I realized being a police officer was a better fit for me. Being an officer is very demanding, and today now more than ever there are a lot more expectations placed on cops. An example would be the current opioid crisis that we, like everyone else, have been dealing with. It took about 4 years, but on the service side of our police response, I was able to steer the formation of Project Support You, which placed a mental health/substance misuse worker in our police cars who provides support to our department when responding to calls involving people suffering from mental health or have overdosed.

What’s your favorite part of your work? One aspect of my current role that I really enjoy is our community outreach program Lewiston Summer Fun & Films program that provides fun and free family programming during the summer.

Since we first reported on Project Support You, what have the results been like? Great question. Since the launch of the program in September 2018 we have seen a reduction in the number of ODs in Lewiston. Also, we have only had about three people re-overdose since we started doing direct post-overdose follow-ups. A few things that are important to know is that Tri-County Mental Health Services has been donating 10 hours a week of staff time since the start of this program. Also, TCMHS is working with all clients and is placing clients with other service providers so anyone in need gets the assistance they want from who they want, with no agenda other  than helping. Another thing that is important to know is that people in Lewiston are becoming aware and we have had a number of people reach out to us months later seeking help.

Now, this doesn’t mean we’re not pursuing and arresting traffickers. We are. We are doing a balanced approach of both enforcement and providing treatment/assistance. Also, all of our officers are carrying Narcan and we have drug and needle drop-off boxes in our lobby.

Has any headway been made into securing more funding for the program? We are currently working on obtaining additional funding to expand the hours of coverage because 10 hours is not enough and we are optimistic that we will succeed in getting at least 40 hours of coverage and in particular expand coverage to nontraditional hours like in the evenings.

Are there any individual examples of success stories you can share? In 2018, we had someone who generated 119 calls for service, and following intervention on 10/29 we only had 1 more call for service with them. They were on pace to have a total of 143 calls for service for 2018. That person is now in treatment, taking medication, not being arrested, and has stable housing. . . . This program is important because it assists people with having better outcomes and from entering our justice system. It also frees up our officers’ time to respond to other calls

Do you have any personal reasons why this program is important to you? There are people I know who have suffered from substance misuse disorder and I know plenty of people who have died because of it. It is important that we remember these are all individuals and many of whom faced circumstances that were not ideal, especially while growing up.

From what I gather, the concept of community policing seems to be very important to you. Would you mind elaborating on that? Law enforcement can and will only be successful if we are working with our community. It is to easy to say “arrest,” but arresting doesn’t usually address the actual issues, rather only kicks the can down the road. Don’t misunderstand me though, arrests must happen. But we do need comprehensive solutions, which is why programs like Project Support You are needed. We see the consequences all day of broken health systems, unsafe housing, lack of accessible youth programming, poor education and misinformation to name a few, which is also why law enforcement is in a unique place to shed light on the issues we see and advocate changes.

Anything personal you’d like to share? Exciting news or hobbies? Our Lewiston Summer Fun & Films program will start on 6/26 and I am grateful for the community support we have received. I am really annoyed with the Bruins. You can’t win hockey games when you’re playing in your zone the entire time. Also, they need to protect Rask . . . two goaltender interferences!?!

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