Holley police chief: more mental health services needed for community

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 March 2021 at 12:27 pm

At police reform session, Holley PD viewed as ‘stepping stone’ to other larger departments

Photos by Tom Rivers: Roland Nenni, Holley police chief until he retires on March 31, speaks during a forum on police reform last Thursday at the village office in the former Holley High School.

HOLLEY – The Holley Police Department responds to about 1,000 calls annually, and many are lockouts, alarms going off, and building checks.

But increasingly, the department responds to people in mental health crisis. Holley Police Chief Roland Nenni said more mental health personnel are needed in the community to help assist individuals in a mental health crisis.

In Orleans County, two classes of law enforcement officers, about a dozen in each class, have taken week-long crisis intervention training, learning techniques to de-escalate situations with people suffering a mental health issue.

“It’s not enough,” Nenni said about the training for officers. “It’s definitely not enough.”

The county would benefit with a  team of trained specialists who could quickly be deployed to a crisis situation. “With SWAT, you’re bringing a sledgehammer to the problem,” he said.

Nenni said there needs to be more psychiatric facilities with beds for people to stay.

“We’re trying to find better ways of dealing with mental health,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Nenni spoke last Thursday during a meeting about police reform. Those meetings are required for the 500 law enforcement agencies around the state. They need to submit a plan to the state by April 1, and show that they have given the public a chance to air concerns about how the police departments are responding to community needs.

“We have a great community and we have a great police department,” Nenni told about 20 people at the meeting.

About 20 people attended the session last week about the Holley Police Department.

Nenni said the mandate on law enforcement agencies of all sizes around the state for police reform is “insulting” to departments like Holley, which have banned chokeholds and have a policy for use of force.

Holley officers have had body cameras since October 2017. They carry AEDs in their patrol cars in case they go to a call and someone is in cardiac arrest.

The Holley PD does about 25 to 75 arrests each year. In the past 10 years, Nenni said officers have used force about a dozen times.

Holley’s policies and its police reform plan will be posted on the Village of Holley website and Facebook page before the April 1 deadline.

“What the governor is mandating, we already have that,” Nenni said. “Our orders exceed the policies mandated by the governor.”

But the purpose of the meeting on Thursday was to hear from the community what Holley PD could be doing better.

Diane Rouse, a local resident, said more mental health services are needed to assist the police and respond to residents who need help. There are bigger issues, too – poverty and drug abuse – that are part of the mental health issues and crime in the community, Rouse said.

District Attorney Joe Cardone said law enforcement often are called to people “hysterical” with mental health problems that may been even more extreme from drug use.

“I have a lot of respect for law enforcement,” Cardone said. “These men and women walk into very volatile situations and have to make decisions quickly. We’re asking law enforcement to diffuse situations and these are very difficult situations.”

Nenni expects to see more resources for mental health services. In Orleans County, a crisis intervention team should be run from the county and not from the Holley PD and individual law enforcement agencies, Nenni said.

“This is on the national radar,” he said. “We’re keenly aware of the problems that mental health causes for law enforcement.”

‘I have a lot of respect for law enforcement. These men and women walk into very volatile situations and have to make decisions quickly. We’re asking law enforcement to diffuse situations and these are very difficult situations.’ – DA Joe Cardone

Another focus of the police reform mandate from the governor is to make sure the public feels they are being treated fairly by law enforcement, Cardone said, whether they are victims of crime or the defendants.

Joanne Best, the county’s public defender, also attended the Holley forum.

“We don’t honestly get a lot of complaints from our clients that the police did something wrong to me,” Best said.

She suggested the law enforcement agencies make annual reports public, and detail how many calls, how many arrests and the results of those arrests.

Nenni is a Holley resident who also is Albion’s police chief. He is ending a 29-year law enforcement career on March 31. He said it has been an honor to lead the department in his home community.

Nenni, the leader of the Orleans County SWAT team, was praised for his service by Joe Cardone, the county’s district attorney.

“I can tell you he will be sorely missed,” Cardone said. “He has done great work in Albion and Holley and throughout Orleans County.”

Best also praised the retiring police chief for being “extremely accessible.” She also commended Nenni for leading numerous community events, from the National Night Out at Bullard Park in Albion to DWI simulations at Holley and Albion schools. In those mock accidents, students role play being in an accident, with firefighters extricating them from vehicles. In Holley, there has been a court re-enactment with the drunken driver sentenced to state prison.

Bob Barton will take over as acting chief of the Holley Police Department. He is retired from the Greece Police Department and has worked as a part-time officer in Holley for several years.

The Village Board has appointed Bob Barton to serve as acting chief beginning April 1. Barton is retired from the Greece Police Department and has worked as a part-time officer in Holley

Barton said he prefers working in a small town, where it is easier to get to know the residents and businesses.

“Being a cop is getting to know your community and letting your community get to know you,” he said. “I like being a local cop because a local cop gets to know the people. That’s what it’s all about.”

Holley currently has one full-time officer, a part-time chief and about 10 other part-timers. Mayor Kevin Lynch said Holley is looking to fill another full-time position.

John Kenney, a former Holley mayor, said the department acts as a “stepping stone” for new officers to get experience and then move on to bigger departments. The turnover can make it challenging to maintain consistent staffing. Right now, Nenni said there are about 6-7 open shifts a month that aren’t staffed.

When a Holley officer isn’t on duty, there is usually a Sheriff’s deputy or state trooper close by.

Cardone said law enforcement will likely face another new challenge. He expects the State Legislature and governor to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Cardone believes that will result in more serious and fatal car accidents and other problems for the community.

“There is no question that will lead to more issues,” Cardone said. “There is no question this is a very difficult time for law enforcement.”