New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, an advocate for mental health awareness, announced the program this week.
As part of a new initiative that is set to launch next year, New York City will deploy mental health teams to respond to certain kinds of 911 calls, CNN reports. The teams, which are currently being formed, will include EMS health workers and mental health crisis workers. Police officers will only be dispatched as a backup in cases where an individual has a weapon or is threatening violence. The pilot program, announced by New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, her husband Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other city officials on Monday, has received mixed criticism so far. However, there were more than 170,000 mental health calls to the city's 911 call center last year from "people who just needed help," not police intervention.
For the first time in NYC history, @NYCMayor announced that new #MentalHealth Teams of EMS health professionals and mental health crisis workers will be dispatched through 911 to respond to mental health emergencies in two high-need communities. More info: https://t.co/rW5IGF9Rn8 pic.twitter.com/tsyheLezvc— NYC Health + Hospitals (@NYCHealthSystem) November 10, 2020
"The NYPD looks forward to participating in this important pilot program. The participation of mental health professionals is a long-awaited improvement in the city's initial response to people in crisis," Police Commissioner Dermot Shea stated in a news release. "Our officers applaud the intervention by health professionals in these non-violent cases and as always stand ready to assist." At present, it is not clear which 911 calls would fall under the program, but two mental health teams will be deployed in two high-need communities by February next year.
“There were more than 170,000 mental health calls to the city's 911 call center last year--an estimated one call every three minutes--and the majority involved "people who just needed help” NYC will send mental health teams instead of police for some calls https://t.co/iCSQoR2kv9— Colette Rausch (@coletterausch) November 13, 2020
Some have applauded the new program, while others believe it may not be effective, particularly in situations when things turn violent. Matt Kudish, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City (NAMI-NYC), said he believed the initiative was a "step in the right direction." Nonetheless, he hoped that he would soon see an alternative that did not involve police officers at all. Meanwhile, Joseph L Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant who now works as an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, claimed that though this would free up police officers' time for other work, it could put the lives of EMS and mental health workers at risk.
#BREAKING: Mayor de Blasio and NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray announce a new mental health initiative that "fundamentally changes" mental health emergencies: "We will launch new mental health teams that will respond to 911 mental health calls across priority neighborhoods." pic.twitter.com/eI0UIVx0wq— The Hill (@thehill) November 10, 2020
As someone who has responded to dozens of these calls, Giacalone explained that they could quickly turn violent. He shared, "Those situations are the scariest to deal with in policing, as far as I'm concerned, because you never know what [they're] going to do." Along similar lines, Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J Lynch criticized the program, highlighting the need to completely overhaul the city's mental healthcare system. "Police officers know that we cannot single-handedly solve our city's mental health disaster, but this plan will not do that, either," he affirmed. "It will undoubtedly put our already-overtaxed EMS colleagues in dangerous situations without police support."
Mental health awareness in NYC: New teams to respond to 911 mental health callshttps://t.co/ZkyPHqkw5k— PIX11 News (@PIX11News) November 10, 2020
Nonetheless, Kudish reiterated that getting police officials involved only puts people at greater risk. His organization is currently working on its own pilot program as part of a coalition. Their program proposes using EMTs and trained peers, who have had experience with mental health issues, to respond to mental health emergencies. The executive director added that he would like to see the new 988 number being used to help people connect to community organizations that could then call for help for them or their loved ones. He affirmed, "This is not a police issue. It's not a law enforcement issue. It's a public health issue."
In Februrary, New York City will launch a pilot program to dispatch non-police first responders to calls about mental health crises. "For the first time in our city's history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis.” https://t.co/q5oU2yGAF2— The Appeal (@theappeal) November 12, 2020