Meet Boston Police Officer Ben Lynskey and Bring His Mental Health Background to the Streets
Lynskey, 40, is a member of the Boston Police Department’s Street Outreach Unit. The team specializes in connecting people suffering from substance use disorders and mental illness to social services, with a focus on treatment and housing rather than accommodation. Lynskey, a former mental health worker who felt called to join the police force after helping police officers respond to psychiatric emergencies, brings years of crisis intervention training and experience . Defines his police philosophy.
“These are the things that always bothered me: counseling, talking to people, listening to them, wanting to be helpful… [and] Those skills never leave you,” he explained. “This unit itself is a testament to our commitment to recognizing drug use, mental health and homelessness, all of which are part of policing.”
For Boston City Councilman Frank Baker, Lynskey is a “future cop,” someone trained to recognize emotionally distressed behavior and defuse emotional situations “without escalating.” .
Baker said his family’s history of heroin addiction made him stubborn When introduced to Lynskey through Lieutenant Peter Messina, a road service advocate and head of road service, Baker quickly recognized him as “a model of true police reform and community police.” did.
Lynskey grew up in a middle-class suburban Milford family, his mother a nurse and his father a teacher. A Penn State graduate with a degree in psychology, he knew only that he liked people and wanted to help them. He also loved nature and after several stints at an inpatient care facility for troubled youth, he became a wilderness therapy instructor in New Hampshire, “taking groups of at-risk children to the forest. and taught them survival skills,” he said.
For several years, Lynskey roamed the country doing similar jobs, going as far as San Diego and then back home, earning a mental health counselor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. There he interned before working with the Boston Emergency Services team, eventually becoming the first clinician in a program to partner with police officers to respond to mental health emergencies. , a city-wide public health initiative, Lynskey recalled many officers were skeptical when the program launched in 2011.
“There was some trust that had to be built on both sides,” he said. “Early on, people were like, ‘What’s this guy’s deal, why do we need him? What can he do for us that we haven’t done yet?'”
But over the next decade, the sector made “light years” of progress, he said. In addition to the Joint Responder program, the agency now also has its own crisis intervention training for officers, which Lynskey helped develop and co-taught.
“When we started, I was one guy trying to figure it out,” he said. I actually accepted it.”
As the department began to realize the importance of mental health training, Lynskey fell in love with the camaraderie and challenge of the police force.
“Everyone around me was saying, ‘Hey, just be a cop.’ [you do now],” He said. “The more people said that, the more I thought this actually made sense.”
Kate Moore, director of emergency services for the North Suffolk Mental Health Association, said: Nearly a decade ago, I shared a desk with Lynskey, both still working in Outreach. She said, “I always knew Lynskey could do either or both. That’s what makes him a good officer.”
Moore now works with officers in northern Suffolk County, many of whom he said reminded him of Lynskey.
“They follow the necessary laws, but they also understand that there is more to people than crime and the situation they find themselves in,” she said.
At the age of 35, Lynskey was late for the police academy, but was able to perform well and receive a physical fitness award to select his first assignment. He chose his B-2 in one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods, Roxbury, and despite his desire to “just be a cop for a while,” his crisis intervention training was , found themselves coordinating responses to emergency calls for everything from horrific crimes to minor crimes. .
“We recognize that for some people, even the simplest of stopping at a traffic stop can be an incredibly anxiety-inducing event, and one thing we can do is help people in that moment. “This may sound really silly, but I used to start off with a joke when pulling people over…be aware of your surroundings, be tactical savvy, and know their sandwiches.” Because you can make a kind of quirky comment about … establishing a certain degree of humanity.”
After about four years at Roxbury, Linsky moved to Street Outreach. Initially, he had typical outreach responsibilities like handing out clean needles and trying to connect people to addiction recovery programs. He became familiar with faces that once seemed fleeting, and he learned to recognize many people who frequented Mass and Cass over the years.
“Getting to know them a little bit personally, getting to know some of the families looking for them, but people don’t get there by burning one bridge. Burn it,” he said. “This is where the train ends. It doesn’t get any worse. People either get better or die from here.”
The occasional silver lining keeps him going. He remembers reuniting his sister with a woman who had been separated for months and sitting in the rain listening to her for the first time. from her life.
He called her sister and said she would be there soon. But she was hesitant, he recalled. Her face was filled with the anxiety of someone so “physically dependent” that she couldn’t imagine leaving opioids behind.
“‘If you go hug your sister, what will happen after that?'” he told her. From a distance, he saw them hugging before the sisters’ husbands rushed them into the car and drove off into the gray. I remember thinking, “I feel like I’ve done something good.” ”
Lynskey’s work in the Street Outreach Unit now focuses on sex trafficking, intercepting networks of pimps and traffickers and directing women to recovery centers. Although he considers the relationships with the community he’s built one of his most meaningful parts of the job, Linsky offers an opportunity to disrupt the system rather than smash a band-aid with a bullet. He said he prefers big-picture projects because matter of size.
“There’s no shortage of resources available to us,” he said, but the pull of addiction is overwhelming. “It’s so hard to get people to make good choices.”