New York City Shifting Mental Health Calls From NYPD To Actual Mental Health Professionals
from the keeping-more-people-alive-is-always-a-net-positive dept
In all honesty, we’ve been asking the police to do too much for years. If we really care about the most vulnerable members of our community, we would stop calling cops to handle it. But for years, that’s been pretty much our only option. We call 911 and 911 tends to send cops to deal with people in the throes of mental health crises.
This has worked out badly. Cops aren’t trained to handle mental health issues. They’re trained to apprehend criminals and meet latent threats with deadly force. People who just need a good doctor are ending up with bullets in them. In far too many cases, suicide threats end with the suicidal person dead. That’s not what we want from the police. Unfortunately, that’s all they really have to offer. And that’s how courts end up excusing cops for, say, tasing a person doused in gasoline, ensuring the latent threat they poised became a reality, killing the person needing help, and burning down the house around him.
Cities are beginning to take another approach to mental health issues. Wellness checks are better handled by mental health professionals. It’s a conclusion that seems obvious but is rarely embraced by law enforcement and the local governments overseeing them. There’s a time and place for law enforcement response. Someone suffering from mental health issues isn’t a police matter. Neither is homelessness. Neither is bog standard trespassing, which often just means someone saw someone where they didn’t expect to see someone.
Routing these calls to people trained to respond appropriately works. A pilot program in Denver, Colorado just wrapped up six months of rerouting, resulting in no deaths, no wounding, and no arrests, despite handling more than 350 calls. Police still handle most 911 calls, but even in a part-time capacity, Denver’s new mental health response team has shown an improvement over how these calls have been handled historically.
And now it appears the largest police department in the nation will be handing off mental health calls to mental health professionals. The NYPD will no longer be handling some calls related to issues that really don’t require a show of force in response. The program was first announced late last year in response to the killing of Daniel Prude — a man suffering a mental breakdown — by Rochester, New York police officers.
Mental health workers will replace police officers in responding to some 911 calls next year in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
The test program, to be rolled out in two neighborhoods, will give mental health professionals the lead role when someone calls 911 because a family member is in crisis, officials said.
The initiative is modeled on existing programs in cities including Eugene, Oregon, where teams of paramedics and crisis workers have been responding to mental health 911 calls for more than 30 years.
The limited rollout is now expanding to cover one of New York City’s largest boroughs.
New York City police will stay out of many mental health crisis calls and social workers will respond instead in parts of northern Manhattan starting this spring, an official told lawmakers Monday.
The test program will begin in three Harlem and East Harlem police precincts that together accounted for a highest-in-the-city total of over 7,400 mental health-related 911 calls last year, said Susan Herman, who heads a wide-ranging city mental health initiative called ThriveNYC.
The program will continue to expand for the next couple of years. NYPD officers will no longer be expected to handle certain calls and will be able to ask for assistance from this unit if a call they respond to requires their assistance.
Officers will still respond to calls involving weapons or “imminent risk of harm.” This leeway should keep mental health professionals out of harm’s way. But it will also increase the risk that mental health crises will see force — rather than knowledge and de-escalation — deployed in response to certain 911 calls.
Still, it’s a positive step. The NYPD — and its union reps — have been uninterested in seeing EMTs and healthcare professionals insert themselves into this part of the law enforcement equation. And the stats show the NYPD hasn’t been as awful at handling health issues as some other police departments elsewhere in the nation. Fewer than 1 in 100 calls resulted in arrest. However, half of those calls ended with hospitalization. This could be a positive. Hospitalization is often the desired outcome in mental health crises. But the stats cited in this report do not break down hospitalizations to show which are due to injuries sustained during arrests/detainments and which were due to appropriate responses to mental health issues.
But overall this appears to be a positive step forward. It has worked elsewhere in the nation so there’s no reason to believe this won’t be a net gain for New York City residents. Cops don’t have all the answers. And they certainly don’t have all the training needed to handle problems better addressed by healthcare professionals. Anything that removes these judgment calls from the equation will help more New Yorkers stay alive and unharmed when suffering mental health issues.