When the world shutdown in March 2020, a lot of things changed, including the role of Officer Jillian Donnelly of the Everett Police Department. When her main role as a School Resource Officer was put on hold as schools were closed, she shifted gears to meet the changing needs of her community, leaning into her role as Community Outreach Officer to aid the vulnerable homeless population in the city.
Along with her Sargeant, Dennis O’Donnell, Officer Donnelly was tasked with building a rapport with the growing transient population, many of whom gather in Everett Square.
Officer Donnelly, who says she has a “soft spot” for this population and truly likes to help people, was more than up to the task and began establishing relationships and gradually gaining their trust.
The first success story came in the fall of 2020 when Officer Donnelly was able to get one woman into a nearby detox center, after she showed up at city hall intoxicated and asking for help. Although usually reserved for family members, Officer Donnelly was able to petition the court on the woman’s behalf and a Section 35 was granted, which places someone in “eminent danger to themselves or others” in an involuntary hold for substance abuse. Subsequently, the woman’s boyfriend also decided to get help. After they both completed 90-day treatments, Officer Donnelly “literally never saw them again” which is a good thing in this case. She heard later they were doing well.
After this success, the team really got to work, interviewing people throughout the city to see how they could best meet their needs. They also made it clear what would not be tolerated – public drunkenness and disorderly conduct for example – and that no officer wants to arrest them for these offenses if they can avoid it.
The officers found that sometimes just having a conversation with people can go a long way. Many have no family around or are estranged from their family because of substance abuse and/or mental health issues and the feeling of isolation and hopelessness can become too much, but a simple kind gesture and the notion of someone “having their back” can make all the difference in agreeing to get help.
Unfortunately, as the winter months set in, the dire need for help for the vulnerable population only increases. Many of them drink just to stay warm and breaking and entering becomes an issue as the homeless seek shelter and warmth. During a snowstorm last year, a man was so severely intoxicated that he stumbled onto the onramp of the Tobin Bridge.
Right around Christmastime, a homeless individual in a wheelchair was in desperate need of some help. Well-known in the community, the years on the street had hardened him, and although he was in extreme pain and vomiting, his distrust of doctors and fear of losing his belongings made him reluctant to seek help. Thanks to Officer Donnelly’s persistence and arranging for his stuff to travel with him, he was able to get to a hospital and get medical treatment and ultimately an emergency surgery. He was later admitted to Barbara McInnis House in Boston where he will remain until housing becomes available.
Especially during the winter, it’s not uncommon for the Everett PD to go above and beyond to help in any way they can. This includes purchasing food, clothes and blankets with their own money, making calls on their off hours to find available beds and connect individuals with appropriate programs, and even driving them to treatment centers or shelters once they’ve been secured.
Once Officer Donnelly and Sgt. O’Donnell come across an individual in need, it is hard to forget them. In 2018, a man was so intoxicated that he fell, injured himself severely, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. In late 2020, on routine patrol Donnelly and O’Donnell yet again came across this individual. His substance use issues were clearly still pertinent. Knowing the medical history of the individual, both Officer Donnelly and Sgt. O’Donnell took it upon themselves to personally transport him to Recovery Centers of America in Danvers. This has happened on multiple occasions.
The Everett PD works closely with various organizations and programs around Boston to get as many individuals off the streets as they can. This includes the PAATHS program in Boston and various detox and substance abuse treatment centers such as Recovery Centers of America and the Barbara McInnis House.
As we experience a critical point in history where law enforcement is under constant scrutiny, it should be noted that Everett PD prides itself on taking the role of public servant very seriously, something that comes from the top down and is instilled in every officer.
Although at times it’s been frustrating when they can’t do more, Officer Donnelly feels the time and effort the department has put in has positively impacted the community and made for a safer Everett overall, however their work is no way near done.
“It’s a constant, continuous, collaborative effort,” she said, “but it’s definitely been a blessing to be able to help these people.”