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March calls for new mental health response, 6 months after police shooting of Miguel Estrella

Sunday marks six months since a Pittsfield, Massachusetts, police officer shot and killed a 22-year-old resident who was in the midst of a mental heath crisis. Activists and family members are holding a march and rally to call for a different kind of mental health response.

On March 25, when officer Nicholas Sondrini shot and killed Miguel Estrella, the mental health clinician, who works with police, was not on duty. Now police are taking steps to hire more mental health professionals. But Dana Rasso from Invest in Pittsfield said organizers of the rally want unarmed, peer-led crisis teams rooted in the community, not in the police department.

''That looks like our neighbors getting training in de-escalation tactics and in mental health first aid and then working with their neighbors to help them in situations where somebody is in a state of crisis," Rasso said. "Having a familiar face is often very comforting and helpful when you're having a crisis."

The Pittsfield City Council approved funding last month to research mental health services that do not involve police.

The council will be voting Tuesday on the creation of new positions, including an emergency mental health clinician and licensed social worker who would work police.

Rally organizers, including Manos Unidas, Westside Legends and Roots & Dreams and Mustard Seeds also want the city to stop putting police resource officers in schools — and invest city funds in violence prevention, affordable housing and youth mentorship programs.

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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