WATERVILLE — The city in the coming weeks intends to fill a new position that’s meant to help people struggling with mental health, substance abuse and other crises, and as a result reduce the need for police response and involvement.

Similar positions are being developed at police departments around the country.

Hannah Longley, a licensed clinical social worker and senior clinical director of community programs at National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, said more and more departments across the state are investing in such positions.

“Depending on the department, we hear reports that anywhere from 25% to 40% of the calls law enforcement responds to are related to mental health or substance use concerns,” Longley said Friday. “Gov. (Janet) Mills has proposed a historic investment in the mental health system in her recent budget. However, this is after 10-15 years of minimal funding. As a result, the criminal justice system sadly assumed the role of catch-all for individuals falling through the cracks.”

Waterville’s full-time position will pay $46,000 to $50,000, not including benefits, and be based at the Police Department, according to acting police Chief Bill Bonney. Interviews for the position started the first week of February and the city hopes to have someone on board by the end of March, he said.

Eight people have applied, according to acting City Manager Bill Post.


The person hired will go out into the community to talk with people affected, as well as organizations and agencies that can help, Bonney said Friday.

“It really identifies those people to try to connect them with services,” he said. “The idea is to reduce the necessity for a police response by providing them with appropriate community services, and obviously that reduces, hopefully, the chances of them going into a mental health crisis or some other crisis where law enforcement is forced to respond and have a negative interaction with them.”

Waterville follows communities such as Saco and Sanford, and agencies such as Maine State Police, in hiring people to serve as liaisons, he said.

Longley said police departments such as Waterville’s are trying to provide the appropriate support and resources to divert people from the criminal justice system whenever possible.

“We are working hard to ensure that individuals struggling with their mental health, a medical condition, are not stigmatized or criminalized,” she said.

Last year alone, Waterville police responded to 568 calls that were specially designated as mental health calls, but that number can be misleading because many other calls coded as disturbances or suspicious activity actually are mental health-related, according to Bonney. In 2021, the department responded to 898 calls designated as mental health calls, he said.


Bonney said hiring a liaison is an effort to look at the needs of the community and work with the community to find solutions through strategic problem-solving.

“This is community policing,” he said.

Bonney on Friday was heading out to speak with state representatives about the status of the mental health system in Maine. Jared Mills, Augusta’s police chief, also was to be there, Bonney said.

The Waterville position was first advertised in August as a mental health liaison, but there were no applicants, likely because of how the job description and pay were configured, Post said Friday.

Councilor Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, asked that the name be changed because it deals with not only mental health but other issues as well.

When Bonney became acting police chief several weeks ago, he worked to develop a new job description that was reviewed by Post and the city’s human resources department, according to Post.

“It started out last budget season, when we recognized we needed some sort of position to help those individuals in the city that are struggling,” Post said, “and to get them connected to the help that they need, whether it’s mental health serves, whether it’s the career center or some other social service provider.”

The person holding the job will work closely with community organizations and providers, as well as with the Waterville Police Department. The person will not ride with police officers.

Bonney said the need for such a position has been long needed. Former Waterville police Chief John Morris identified the need in Waterville in 1996 and the department instituted a “midnight team” where mental health workers responded to calls with police officers. Over the years funding was lost for that position, according to Bonney. Morris later became commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.