DPS announces hiring of director of mental health programs – Vermont Biz

Vermont Business Magazine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling and Vermont State Police Director Col. Matthew T. Birmingham are pleased to announce the hiring of the first director of mental health programs for the department. 

Mourning Fox, who has more than 25 years of experience in the mental-health field, including over four years as deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, will help coordinate and oversee efforts at the 10 state police barracks throughout Vermont regarding the delivery of mental health services to people who come into contact with VSP. 

“This is a crucial position within the Department of Public Safety and for the Vermont public safety community as we pursue short-, medium- and long-term goals with respect to mental health response and reimagining policing and safety services,” DPS Commissioner Michael Schirling said. “We’re thrilled to welcome someone with the breadth and depth of experience that Mourning brings to this position.”

Fox’s work will cover multiple facets over time: 

  • Short-term: He will work with all the barracks, their local designated agencies, and the Department of Mental Health to complete the hiring process and ensure each field station has at least one embedded mental health crisis specialist. In addition, Fox will work to break down any barriers or hurdles to the hiring process, and ensure consistency in training and onboarding. 
  • Medium-term: Fox plans to focus on ensuring fidelity across the state related to how the embedded workers respond and that there is consistency in the work. Regular meetings with the mental health crisis specialist, VSP troopers and command staff, designated agency leadership, and other public safety first responders and similar embedded social worker and mental health first response initiatives throughout Vermont will address any issues as they arise. Regular case reviews will occur, with findings shared across the program so every participant can learn from what has worked and what was less effective. 
  • Long-term: Fox is charged with helping the Department of Public Safety’s ongoing work to re-imagine the model of how the police provide services to Vermonters who may be experiencing a mental-health or substance-use-disorder crisis, or who have other unmet social-service needs.  

“There are many models of alternative response to these types of issues under development around the nation and the world, and each model has its own usefulness that is affected by state laws, population demographics and geographic impacts,” Fox said. “Our intent is to bring in many local voices while also looking to what others have already begun to implement elsewhere in the country. We will be looking not only at how we provide services, but also how we train our responders to provide these services.” 

Fox began work with DPS on Aug. 30 and came to the Vermont State Police with deep knowledge and experience in the mental-health field. He was deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health for the past four and a half years, during which he was an active member of the Mental Health Crisis Response Commission which reviews interactions between law enforcement and people with mental health issues that resulted in either injury or death.  

Over his career of two-plus decades, Fox has held positions including serving as director of the maximum security inpatient forensic units at Bridgewater State Hospital in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where individuals were placed when they were involved in the criminal justice system and had significant mental health needs. He also is a 2009 graduate and class president of the Plymouth (Mass.) Police Academy’s Basic Reserve Academy. Fox has been trained and certified by the FBI and Special Operations Tactical International as a hostage/crisis negotiator. He has been certified as a NAPPI (Non-Abusive Psychological and Physical Interventions) instructor, a CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) trainer and a Mental Health First Aid trainer.  

Among other experiences, Fox has provided violence prevention and de-escalation training and consultation to law enforcement agencies throughout New England, and to a multitude of social service providers, educators and others. He helped create the Team Two curriculum and remains a member of the Team Two Steering Committee. Fox also was the Department of Mental Health’s subject matter expert behind the language and eventual passage of Act 57, which was signed into law during the last legislative session and known as the Forensic Bill. It changed the evaluation practices for those where competency/sanity are in question and changed victim notification practices for those committed to DMH custody after being found either incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. 

“I’m excited to be part of the team at the Department of Public Safety that will work hand-in-hand with our troopers, VSP commanders, state policymakers and stakeholders throughout Vermont as we continue this crucial work in the modernization of policing,” Fox said. 

Source: WATERBURY, Vermont (Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021) — Department of Public Safety

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