New York City will now send Mental Health experts instead of cops to certain 911 calls

Ahana Chowdhury

22nd November 2020

New York City launches program that sends mental health professionals to emergency calls (Source: John Minchillo)

New York City has decided to launch a pilot program wherein mental-health experts rather than the police will respond to 911 calls involving mental-health emergencies.

The pilot program, set to launch in February 2021 is modelled after a mobile crisis intervention unit in Eugene, Oregon.

"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," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, as reported by People. "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."

This initiative is a much needed one in present times where numerous people are succumbing to mental health issues.

Currently, in New York City, all mental health-related 911 calls are answered by NYPD (New York Police Department) officers and Fire Department EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians). However, the new program will see that experts trained in dealing with behavioural health problems will respond to emergency situations involving suicide attempts, substance misuse and severe mental illness issues.

In cases involving the use of weapons or the threat of possible violence, a team of mental health experts will accompany NYPD officers.

The program aims to provide appropriate help in instances relating to mental health, as behavioural health professionals are likely to have a better understanding of how to diffuse such situations.

The initiative was also fuelled by the worldwide protests against racism and police brutality, both of which have made headlines and evoked public awareness in recent times. The uproar is in correspondence to several police killings of Black people, many of whom had been suffering from mental health issues at the time of their death.

Dennis Kenney, a former officer and current professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said to Insider that nearly 25 per cent of people shot by the police are experiencing some sort of mental health crisis.

"Emergencies are not all the same and the skills needed to respond vary as well," Health Commissioner Dr Dave A. Chokshi said in a written statement, as reported by Insider. "Expanding the role of mental health in emergency services means that people with urgent behavioural health needs can quickly get appropriate and effective help from trained health professionals."

Following up with New York City, several other US municipalities have also adopted similar models. At a time when topics of mental health and police brutality have gained immense traction, such initiatives are imperative.

(Sources: People, Insider, The Wall Street Journal)

Edited by: Aditi Anilkumar

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