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Laura Hayes

SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Police Department responded to nearly 1,000 mental health calls between 2017 to 2021.

That marked a 38% increase from the previous five year period, according to Chief Kevin Anderson.

Enter Jessica Atwood, who is the department’s new jail diversion program co-response clinician.

“While our officers are excellent at what they do, we have to realize that they are police officers and not licensed mental health professionals with a formal education in the mental health field,” Anderson said in a recent press release.

Police note spike in mental health calls

Seeing the uptick in mental health calls, the department sought out a person to help provide a higher level of service to residents in a crisis.

Atwood, who started her role in April, told the Community Advocate last week that working with the Shrewsbury Police Department has been going “wonderful” so far.

“Everyone has been so welcoming,” she said. “It’s [a] change for everybody because this is a whole new position.”

“In a short period of time, from emergencies to follow ups, she’s been a tremendous asset,” Anderson said. “She built a really good relationship with the community.”

Atwood grew up near Lowell and Chelmsford, though she’s lived in Worcester County for the past six years.

She’s spent about 12 years in her current profession, working for the Framingham-based human services agency Advocates since 2016.

“I’ve always had an interest in psychology and criminal justice,” Atwood said. Her first job in the field involved working as a mental health technician at Lowell General Hospital’s emergency room.

While she was working at the hospital, Atwood met clinicians who would evaluate patients in the emergency department.

“I asked a clinician once, ‘How do I get your job?’” Atwood recalled. That question led her to go back to graduate school before ultimately interning and later being hired by Advocates.

Community Advocates