New York's Mental Health Response Pilot Program More Responsive, Less Likely To End In Hospitalization Than Sending Out Cops
from the conclusions-that-should-have-been-obvious-from-the-outset dept
Earlier this year, the city of New York announced plans to send mental health professionals out to deal with mental health issues, rather than the standard-issue cops-and-EMS response teams. It’s an idea that’s gained recent popularity, given the difficulty law enforcement officers seem to have when dealing with things they’re not specifically trained to handle. And by “difficulty,” I mean a lot of people who need professional help were instead being “treated” with force deployment, arrests, and the far-more-than-occasional killing.
It’s an idea so simple and intuitive it’s a wonder it’s taken this long to be experimented with in a small number of cities. The success stories seen elsewhere indicate this is something worth trying, if for no other reason than to free up limited law enforcement resources to handle the sort of thing law enforcement officers are trained to handle.
It was a limited deployment, but a successful one.
Under the pilot, teams operate seven days a week, 16 hours a day in Zone 7, which includes East Harlem and parts of Central and North Harlem in the 25, 28, and 32 police precincts. In 2020, there were approximately 8,400 mental health 911 calls in Zone 7, the highest volume of any dispatch zone in the city. During the 16 hours a day when B-HEARD teams were operational from June 6 – July 7, 2021, there were approximately 16 mental health 911 calls each day in Zone 7.
B-HEARD doesn’t handle calls that involve weapons or “immediate risk of violence,” but the team still handled 25% of all mental health emergency calls. The number would likely have been higher with more coverage, as police were routed to some calls when B-HEARD members were unavailable or in the midst of handling a call.
Despite these limitations, the B-HEARD team provided more help to more people than the traditional police response would have.
In 95% of cases, people received assistance from B-HEARD teams, higher than 82% for traditional (NYPD/EMS) 911 response.
So, greater responsiveness. And rather than simply turf mental health calls to the nearest hospital, B-HEARD teams were able to provide on-site help. The traditional (police-EMS) response resulted in 82% of calls ending with a ride to the hospital. With B-HEARD, the number dropped to 50%. One-quarter of all calls handled by B-HEARD were taken care of on-site, including de-escalation and referrals to counseling or other care options. Another 20% of cases resulted in B-HEARD transporting persons to community-based care locations.
And the police are more apt to call in B-HEARD than the other way around, suggesting officers are happy to utilize mental health care professionals if they’re available.
NYPD has requested onsite assistance from B-HEARD 14 times.
B-HEARD teams have requested onsite assistance from NYPD 7 times.
There’s no reason this shouldn’t continue to work. And it should scale easily. Should. A lot depends on talking entities like the NYPD into diverting some of their (outsized) budgets towards hiring team members and funding their continued existence. If officers on patrol are utilizing the new teams, they obviously see the value of having mental health professionals on call. And if the beat officers can see the benefits, hopefully the brass isn’t so disconnected from day-to-day operations that it would stand in the way of helping both the officers they oversee and the people who are paying the NYPD to keep them safe.