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NYC to send EMS, mental health personnel to some mental health calls instead of police

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the pilot program on Tuesday, calling the new approach “a big change in how things are done”


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city will be trialing a new pilot program that sends EMS personnel and mental health professionals on some mental health 911 calls instead of police officers.

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Shant Shahrigian
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Teams of mental health professionals and EMS staff will respond to 911 mental health calls instead of police officers, under a new trial program Mayor de Blasio announced Tuesday.

Without providing key details, like when the program will start and where it will take place, de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray promised “a major innovation” in how the city handles mental health and policing.

“Helping people in a time of crisis with a new approach … this is a big change in how things are done,” de Blasio said at a press conference.

Under the new pilot program, special teams will be sent to 911 calls for mental health episodes deemed safe. Cops will still respond to calls that are considered dangerous.

The distinction will be based on whether a person has a weapon or exhibits violent behavior, McCray said, though she added that the mental health professional will still be “in charge” in cases where an NYPD officer comes along.

The program will start sometime in the next few months, according to McCray, who’s made mental health a top priority during her time as First Lady.

It will begin in two neighborhoods that she did not specify beyond saying they will be “high-needs” areas.

“Our goal overall is to prevent these crises from happening, but when they do, we want to provide better and more compassionate support,” said McCray, noting that the city fielded more than 170,000 mental health-related 911 calls last year.

The new program comes as the de Blasio administration has struggled to reform NYPD practices after years of headlines of police responding to mental health crises with deadly force.

Previous efforts have included “Crisis Intervention Training” for thousands of officers to teach them to de-escalate tense situations — though the city recently paused the program amid budget cuts.

“The challenge is too often, what we see is when police are responding, they tend to escalate the situation rather than de-escalate the situation,” Jeffrey Coots of John Jay College of Criminal Justice told the Daily News.

Pointing to other police departments that have used mental health professionals instead of cops, Coots said: “It’s very successful in terms of, when they’re able to get there, the outcomes are much better. There are rarely fatalities that occur.”


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