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Florida sent mental health workers instead of police to respond to calls, and suicides dropped by 17%

Today, more than 95% of all nonviolent 911 calls are handled by navigators of the CALL teams of social workers and mental health professionals.

Florida sent mental health workers instead of police to respond to calls, and suicides dropped by 17%
HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: A woman helps a child pick out books during the Families Feeding Families event at the Salem Community Center on November 24, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A new program ensuring social workers and mental health professionals respond to nonviolent calls instead of the police in Florida is showing signs of success. The Community Assistance and Life Liaison program (CALL) started out as a pilot program in the state, and initial results show a decrease in suicides of 17%, reported ABC action news. The CALL program responds to nonviolent and noncriminal calls that do not involve the police. Some of the common calls include disorderly intoxication, drug overdoses, behavioral health crises, suicide intervention, truancy, homeless complaints and neighborhood disputes. CALL marks a significant difference in the approach toward helping people in crisis and highlights that cops may not be the answer to dealing with all issues in the community.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: A community volunteer helps a child find books during the Families Feeding Families event at the Salem Community Center on November 24, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: A community volunteer helps a child find books during the Families Feeding Families event at the Salem Community Center on November 24, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

 

"We have had clients that have referred to the call team as a bright spot, and in a crisis situation, and a game-changer for their mental health recovery," said Megan McGee, a Special Projects Manager at the St. Petersburg Police Department. As police were handling all the calls, navigators of the CALL team had to be initially teamed up with police for training in safety and situational awareness. There has since been a gradual shift in responsibility and today, more than 95% of all nonviolent 911 calls are handled by navigators. "The CALL team has absolutely changed the way we respond to mental health concerns in the city of St. Petersburg. It is a way to appropriately respond to mental health concerns," said McGee. "It de-stigmatizes mental health and mental illness because we are sending mental health professionals to these types of calls instead of police, and we are diverting those calls from a law enforcement response."



 

 

The program's success has seen it being renewed for an additional two years. Suicide calls shot up by 60% according to police data. McGee said implementation of the CALL program has seen a 17% decrease in suicides over the last year. The program's success is now being studied for implementation elsewhere. "The CALL team has been featured in some national research for the model. One of them is a toolkit from the Vera Institute, and it's basically to allow and provide information for other municipalities to replicate a program like CALL," said McGee. According to police, CALL responds to an average of 208 live calls and 118 follow-ups and receives between 60-80 referrals. CALL, since its implementation, has served more than 3,000 people, completed more than 5,300 contacts and received more than 1,000 officer referrals.



 

There have been instances of local officials finding success in getting social workers to respond to nonviolent and noncriminal calls. Last year, a pilot program was implemented by New York, announced the then-mayor Bill de Blasio. As we reported, Blasio said he was hopeful the program would be a success across the city. “We’re now convinced that this approach is going to work citywide,” said de Blasio. “So, for mental health crisis calls, we’re going to take that civilian approach and use it in all precincts in the city in the course of the upcoming fiscal year.”



 

“If a family is in crisis, and it’s not a situation involving violence, we are going to send civilians to address those calls,” de Blasio said then. “We have increasingly been using trained civilians prepared for exactly this kind of situation.” The program was said to not be limited to just social workers and EMS responding to such calls, but also included a new mobile treatment unit responding to more severe situations. The mobile unit consisted of 25 teams of highly trained professionals who responded immediately to emergency calls. “The whole idea is to make sure that any community organization has mental health capacity built into it,” said de Blasio at the time.

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