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Pittsfield police had two mental health co-responders. For now, they have one

Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Kenneth C. Zirkel
Creative Commons
Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

For the time-being, at least, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Police Department has lost one of the two mental health professionals who respond with officers to calls from people in need of mental health services.

Ariel Ramirez, the co-responder who is currently not working, said her employer, the Brien Center, put her on administrative leave.

Ramirez is a clinical social worker who has worked for Brien for nearly three years, with about half of that time as a co-responder in Pittsfield. She normally works three days a week, for 12-and-a-half hours per day.

"I have done my job with a great degree of professionalism and service," she said. "It is unfortunate that I am not able to work at the moment. I do not believe that’s a service to the community."

Ramirez declined to say why she was put on leave. Ramirez said she is speaking for herself, not as part of her job.

The Pittsfield Police confirmed the department is down to a single co-responder, but provided no additional information.

"Since the Co-Responder program is staffed with employees of the Brien Center, I have no information on Leave status and have to direct any questions of that nature to their Personnel Office," Lt. Matthew Hill said in an email.

The Brien Center did not respond to requests for information.

Co-responders help de-escalate situations where a member of the community is in the midst of a mental health crisis and police are called.

There is a shortage of experienced clinicians applying for co-responder jobs.

The Pittsfield Police have faced extra scrutiny in recent months, after an officer on March 25 fatally shot a resident, Miguel Estrella, who was experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Berkshire Eagle first reported a co-responder had been on duty until a few minutes before police were called to the scene.

Ramirez said she left earlier that night at the conclusion of her shift, and declined to comment further. Estrella's death remains under investigation by the Berkshire district attorney.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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