Vehicle used for the BCAT, Bangor Community Action Team, program. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

Across America, communities simultaneously ask too much of police departments while locking up too many people for minor infractions. Police are essentially tasked with being mental health responders, and mental health crises are often criminalized.

All of this is more than counterproductive — it is totally backward. Many people need to be connected to support services, not a police response. And police officers should be focusing on enforcing laws, not standing in for some other aspect of society that we’ve failed to collectively invest in.

In short, people shouldn’t have to call the police just because they have no one else to call. And police officers shouldn’t have to stand in for other professionals without the proper training.

So it is welcome news that, here in Bangor, there is now someone else to call.

With federal grant funding, the city has created a new Community Action Team of four people that can respond to local crises and complaints without a police presence. Police can be called later should the situation escalate. So far, these situations have included things like welfare checks and vagrancy complaints and often involve Bangor residents who are homeless or struggling with substance use.

Members of that new team spoke with BDN reporter Kathleen O’Brien about their experience since it began answering calls in March. They have training in mental health, addiction recovery and veterans services. As O’Brien explained, the city allowed the BDN to interview team members as long as they weren’t fully identified or photographed to protect them in the field.

One team member explained how people who are homeless or dealing with substance use might be wary of their efforts, like they would be of police, out of fear of getting in trouble.

“It takes a while, but once they realize we’re not there to get them in trouble, they come around,” team member Robert said. “They don’t have to be afraid of us — they can’t walk all over us either — but we’re there to help if they need it and are ready to accept it.”

This is part of the encouraging power of this new team.

The creation of this new team echoes a general approach gaining traction in other parts of the country. At a time when the conversation about policing in America is fraught with hyperpolarization, this is one idea that has earned support from both law enforcement and criminal justice reformers. And rightly so.

Early results for the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program in Denver, Colorado that sends mental health professionals rather than police in response to some 911 calls, for example, look promising. And though the expansion of the program hasn’t been without challenges or disagreements, according to one study it has helped to reduce crime and saved taxpayer money.

“When the STAR team is there, that person is much less likely to be arrested. They are receiving health care instead of entered into the criminal justice system,” Stanford University professor Thomas Dee said when the study of the Denver program was released last year. “Targeted lower-level crimes — think disorderly conduct, trespassing, etc. — fell dramatically in those downtown precincts relative to the other precincts where the program was unavailable.”

Notably, the idea for Bangor’s new initiative came from police chief Mark Hathaway. We applaud him and everyone else involved for the effort, which has the potential to connect more people to the help they need, put less people in jail and free up some time and resources for an already-overburdened police workforce.

“Each day the responders engage those who may need outreach, support or conversation and direct those who are struggling with various challenges toward better options and appropriate services,” Hathaway said. “While this program is indeed new, there are already early indicators of success.”

Data will be key to measuring and demonstrating success as this new initiative continues. We checked with city officials to make sure that data collection about program outcomes is happening. They said it is, and again emphasized the early stages of this program.

“While the program isn’t new in the country, it is new here and we are working to align the needed reporting not only to meet our grant requirements but to also align with the homeless response work that occurs within our community,” City Manager Debbie Laurie said in an email on Tuesday. “A step we are already moving towards.”

Yes, this effort is in the early stages, but we are nevertheless encouraged that the idea has been put into action here in Bangor. Comprehensive data will be needed to continually assess its impact, but the initial, if anecdotal, experiences of team members already offer hope. Like a community member who agreed to enter treatment for alcohol addiction.

“The light was back in their eyes and they looked at me with the utmost appreciation and told me that I saved their life,” team member Hollie said. “That is proof that this program is needed and works. That one win is my fire and my inspiration.”

It is indeed inspiring, and hopefully there are many more wins to come.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...