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Next year, mental health teams will respond to some 911 calls in NYC—not cops

New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, an advocate for mental health awareness, announced the program this week.

Next year, mental health teams will respond to some 911 calls in NYC—not cops
Image Source: Getty Images/ LGBTQ Activists Rally In NYC As Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Workplace Rights. (Photo by Drew Angerer)

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.




"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.




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.




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."




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."



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