Tewksbury-Chief Timothy Sheehan Receives Exemplary Leadership Award

On June 11, 2019 Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan received the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Law Enforcement Exemplary Leadership Award, at the 9th Annual Mental Health and Law Enforcement Conference, located at Fitchburg State University.

This award recognizes someone in law enforcement whose exceptional leadership has supported training, program and policy development that has had a broad impact in their law enforcement agency and/or broader community the individual serves. This individual has demonstrated outstanding dedication, energy, and commitment toward their work within law enforcement and a passion to both public safety and assisting individuals with mental health, trauma, or other behavioral health difficulties.

The following remarks by John Barber, LICSW, Western MA Area Forensic Director and
Statewide Coordinator of CIT-TTAC Programs for the Department of Mental Health, at the conference highlights the program that Chief Sheehan started to assist those with substance use disorders and mental health issues. This program and collaboration has become a model for other communities.

“Chief Sheehan is a veritable force of nature: a leader who exudes passion, energy, unbridled enthusiasm and a sense of can-do optimism.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Tewksbury Regional JDP program, I don’t blame you at all. Three years ago, it did not exist. Two years ago, it struggled in its infancy. Then, around a year ago it caught fire. When Karin Orr and I started to do our JDP Outcomes Pilot Project, I had little idea of what to expect when I scheduled a meeting with Chief Sheehan and the other regional towns surrounding Tewksbury. Two and a half hours later I realized I witnessed a transformative story and event about how four large towns figured out how to adeptly work with people who have mental health and substance misuse problems and crises.

Many of you in the room here know that developing a regional JDP program with one clinician is not a simple task. It becomes further daunting when the towns are fairly large and populous, and have the additional complications of not just a clinical response, but police partnership and training as part of the effort to help.

Like a lot of towns, Tewksbury became more interested in a JDP program and mental health when the opioid epidemic first hit hard, and overdoses and deaths were devastating the community. Chief Sheehan chose to pick up the mantle and devote his time to solving two of the major issues facing his community: addiction and mental illness. He realized there needed to be a pro-active response, and initially developed a team to focus on prevention and recovery. He brought together community resources, implemented officer follow ups for calls involving substance use disorder, and worked to ensure each officer was trained and carried emergency medical supplies like Narcan and the AED. He was instrumental in acquiring a recovery coach on a PAARI regional grant to help the Community Service Unit do outreach and follow-ups. He also stepped up to be the assigned Law Enforcement Liaison to Lowell District Court’s Drug Court.

For the people in the Tewksbury region though, this was FANTASTIC news, as Chief Sheehan saw firsthand how people have struggled with both mental health and substance use disorders, or dual diagnosis.

This sparked a passion in him to also help people with mental illness stay out of the criminal justice system and jail when it was safe and other treatment resources could be accessed. Similar to his approach and commitment to uprooting addiction, Chief Sheehan committed to train every officer in Mental Health First Aid and Crisis Intervention Team. He devoted specific police department staff and resources to help with mental health crisis responses, and officers use referral forms for follow-up clinical contacts. Finally, his department is involved in supporting the Mental Health Court in Lowell, a way to help people who do get ensnared in the justice system.”

To quote Matthew Page-Shelton, the Jail Diversion clinician of the Tewksbury Regional Program:

“Chief Sheehan serves as an exemplary example of passionate leadership and the impact that passion can have on the community and the Jail Diversion Program. He inspires you to be the best for those we serve. His passion is infectious and you always find yourself wondering what more you can do to increase the program to benefit the community.”

The attached photo is of Chief Timothy Sheehan and John Barber, LICSW.

The Tewksbury Police Department urges any citizens who suspect criminal activity to call the Dispatch Center @ 978-851-7373. If you wish to remain anonymous please call the Tip Line @ 978-851-0175 or send an email to tewks_detectives@tewksbury-ma.gov .

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