DC is changing the way it handles 911 calls for mental health and says it’s already having an impact.
Almost 25% of people shot by police in the United States each year experience a mental health crisis, according to a 2020 report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
This grim statistic motivated DC to develop a pilot program that uses behavioral health specialists to answer certain mental health-related 911 calls instead of the police.
“What sometimes happens when you insert law enforcement into something that is not a crisis, it can actually turn it into something more than it really needs,” said Cleo Subido, Acting Director of the DC Unified Communications Office.
She said the program has been successful so far. From June to September, approximately 315 calls were directed to the DC Department of Behavioral Health.
That’s only about 2% of mental health-related 911 calls in Washington, but Subido says Phase One was designed primarily to keep everyone involved in an incident safe. Phase two is accompanied by an increase in staff, allowing community response teams to respond to more calls.
“We want to do what’s right and what’s best, and if we can do it, especially now at a time when we can transfer information so easily, that makes sense,” Subido said.
Similar programs have been or will be launched in more than a dozen states across the country. U.S. University professor John Firman said the programs represent a shift from the traditional law enforcement-centric 911 system into what he calls a multi-agency response that benefits police and law enforcement. public.
“If we carefully assess the calls, ensure the threat level, and send out teams or individuals to be more productive and helpful, again, I couldn’t be more excited,” Firman said. “This is where we needed to be for a long time.”
Basically, programs like these aim to reduce fatal encounters between police and people in mental health distress.
It won’t stop them all, but Subido said doing nothing is not an option.
“We really believe and we know that this is the best thing for the people of the district, and that is really what it is,” she said.