In a press conference on Tuesday, November 3rd, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced a pilot program that will begin dispatching EMS and mental health professionals to respond to 911 mental health calls instead of police officers.
The program is set to launch next February with initial teams consisting of health professionals and crisis workers from the New York City Fire Department Bureau. Two unspecified “high-need” neighborhoods will be the test sites, according to the mayor’s office.
The mayor added that in cases where someone is armed or may harm themselves or others, the mental health teams will still have assistance from police officers. However, sending armed police will no longer be the default for distress calls that are non-violent.
“One in five New Yorkers struggle with a mental health condition. Now, more than ever, we must do everything we can to reach those people before crisis strikes,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “For the first time in our city’s history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis, making sure those struggling with mental illness receive the help they need.”
“The most innovative breakthroughs in mental health services are often the result of multi-agency partnership, and today marks a new chapter in how the City responds to New Yorkers who are experiencing mental health crises, said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “This is the first time in our history that health professionals will be the default responders to mental health emergencies, an approach that is more compassionate and effective for better long term outcomes.
Over 170,000 911 Mental Health Calls Last Year
Last year, the city recorded over 170,000 mental health related calls, according to CNN. “Currently, NYPD officers and FDNY Emergency Medical Services Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) respond to nearly all mental health 911 calls, regardless of the severity of health needs, whether a crime is involved, or whether there is an imminent risk of violence,” the city stated.
In precincts that are not selected for this pilot program, both NYPD and FDNY trained professionals will continue to respond to 911 mental health calls.
The city also reports that nearly 65% of NYPD operational staff has now been trained in Crisis Intervention Team training.
The pilot program is based off of models used by other states that have been shown to work, like the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program in Eugene, Oregon, which has been deploying mental health services instead of police officers successfully for 30 years.
Similar programs are also being pursued by cities like Albuquerque, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as a few others.
Since 2014, at least 16 unarmed individuals have been shot by police responding to mental health calls. The program seems to be a response to protests and advocates calling for changes in the way the city responds to these calls. Most recently, the city of Rochester erupted in protests after the killing of 41-year-old Daniel Prude, which many say could have been prevented if mental health professionals could have responded instead of armed officers.
Mixed Reactions from NYPD, EMT Unions, & Progressives
Mental health advocates and some progressive groups support the idea, calling it a step in the right direction. “Somebody who is trained to deal with people who are in distress or in emotional crisis and can assess what’s happening and then can make recommendations for more ongoing care — it’s just such a right response,” said Amy Dorin, CEO of the Coalition for Behavioral Health.
On the other hand, “Police officers know that we cannot single-handedly solve our city’s mental health disaster, but this plan will not do that, either. It will undoubtedly put our already-overtaxed EMS colleagues in dangerous situations without police support,” said Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch.
While this change will take a while to roll out, this victory no doubt comes on the backs of organizers and protestors who have been working on this change for years.
Watch the video of the pilot program announcement below.