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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 911, mental health, nyc, nypd, police


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 10:02am

    Wha?

    DeBlasio doing something good vis-à-vis police?

    Impressive! I'll be damned!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 10:31am

    A perfect example of reallocating public safety dollars. Better outcomes, better community engagement. Everyone wins!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 11:34am

    A much better idea than MN's idea of just shoot everyone up with ketamine.

    People expect police to be a swiss army knife with all sorts of useful tools... all their tools are weapons.

    Society is a shitshow for providing help & care of those facing mental challenges.
    (Oh all the hospitals are bad, lets close them and make something better! To bad we only did the first part not the second part)

    Imagining that them being homeless on the street untreated is better than even a bad facility that at least fed & housed them.

    Now we stuff them into prison at a cost much higher than a care facility would be, they have more problems & magically can even be boiled to death with no one facing charges.

    500 billion to buy more missles & tools that we already have to many of, but nothing for mental healthcare even as returning vets are dying from suicide b/c there isn't timely care available to these men & women who are only useful as props for photo-ops & protecting the flow of oil into the nation.

    Society has failed huge portions of itself, believing they aren't worthy of help, love, compassion. That addiction & mental illness are just moral failings they can chose to stop... if they wanted to. Meanwhile preachers of the word of the man who said love one another & help your fellow man roll around in their rolls royces trying to raise a few more dollars to expand the mega church a bit more & make sure the doors can keep those undesirables out... we can't have the sick, homeless, hopeless thinking they can come here for assistance that we only talk about but refuse to provide.

    Humans... they suck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2021 @ 11:45am

      Re:

      Oh all the hospitals are bad, lets close them and make something better!

      Guaranteed failure, as the order should be build something better, and then close down the bad, assuming that the bad was better than nothing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 2:47pm

        Re: Re:

        Reagan did it.

        There were horrible facilities, but they just closed them.
        They didn't beat the crap out of those who were supposed to inspect & provide oversight.
        They didn't pass laws setting standards.
        They just dumped a bunch of mentally ill people out on the streets and said enjoy your tax break.

        That running gag of mine (the whole immortal shtick) about humans doing the same things over & over pretending they never happened before... take a look at nursing homes in FL. They abandoned the elderly to die after a hurricane, owners did nothing, Gov did nothing, death toll was shocking b/c they had no power, no water, no ac... Funny IIRC one of the corps who ran some of those homes is a big donor to the Gov who then let them run a very special vaccination site... not for staff or residents but connected people...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 2:29am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think the mayor of Colorado City Texas summed up that sort of attitude rather well with his "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!"

          What the hell is all that tax money for then?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 3:17am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Doing favors for their corporate friends who give them a tiny fractions of the benefits they gain back as donations so they can stay in office by telling ignorant rubes that the other guy running wants to harm them.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ninja, 3 Mar 2021 @ 11:54am

    When we talk about defunding the police this is precisely what we are talking about. It's using resources in much more productive, effective and peaceful solutions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2021 @ 1:53pm

      Re:

      When we talk about defunding the police this is precisely what we are talking about.

      Sadly, I have to emphasize the "we" in that. As in, "most of us here commenting at Techdirt". Not everyone believes that way. And even among those who do, where to allocate those "defunded" resources is a hot potato.

      ... y'see, "defunding the police" to fund mental health responders is about as close to "a good solution" as you are likely to see. And that is most excellent.

      However, folks have proposed defunding in the service of improving education, housing issues, and poverty. But you could choose just one of those issues, and it would swallow up the entirety of the police budget, were you of a mind to do that. ... and, of course, there ARE folks who haven't thought the whole thing through, for whom "eliminating the police entirely" is the goal, with or without solving the problems we have police for in the first place.

      So yes. We need to celebrate that this solution appears to be working.

      But we also need to be willing to put money into finding workable solutions to those other problems we don't like having police handle. Defunding the police is only one step, and not necessarily the first step.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 2:38pm

        Defunding the police is only one step, and not necessarily the first step.

        But it is a necessary step.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 1:17am

        Re: Re:

        "... and, of course, there ARE folks who haven't thought the whole thing through, for whom "eliminating the police entirely" is the goal, with or without solving the problems we have police for in the first place."

        I'm reminded of the times US police get called to a scene and leave it in far worse a state than when they arrived. Like that infamous case where they showed up to a man drenched in gasoline and set him on fire rather than talk him out of it...

        I must say that thinking the whole thing through I must honestly confess to not really seeing a downside to cutting american law enforcement out of the loop completely, at least in places like Michigan or NY.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 3 Mar 2021 @ 11:58am

    Defund the police

    This is what Defund the Police is about.

    Police are expensive and ineffective for some tasks. It's a waste of money that gets people killed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 3 Mar 2021 @ 6:28pm

    Well, it looks like a bunch of gun targets have just been taken away from the NYPD. How will they get their jollies now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    restless94110 (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 1:32am

    Policy

    Counting down the days and weeks until a mental health professional is killed or seriously injured by one of those kindly mentally ill "victims."

    I'd change fields if I were one of those poor sitting ducks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 1:55am

      Re: Policy

      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.

      If you had bothered to read that, maybe you wouldn't have made that stupid comment of yours. Or are you just trolling us?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 2:35am

      Re: Policy

      "Counting down the days and weeks until a mental health professional is killed or seriously injured by one of those kindly mentally ill "victims." "

      Maybe the mentally ill should be cared for then, rather than being dumped on the street, enlisted in the military, made police officers, or elected to congress.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 3:21am

      Re: Policy

      Oh look, the attitude that all of the mentally ill are dangerous & will harm people...

      Its not like they are PoC who follow the officers directions & still end up dead b/c cops are told that PoC have superhuman abilities all focused on killing them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 5:58am

    the blue lies mafia will still want there quota of beating, shooting and killing....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 6:27am

    This’ll last until a mental-health worker gets a shiv in her spleen. Good luck with this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 3:43am

      Re:

      *ahem*, from the article:

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.