Sunday, June 20

DC police won’t be the first to respond to mental health emergencies

The measure was recommended by the DC Police Reform Commission to reduce violent contact between the public and law enforcement.

EVENTS. The uniformed will see reduced calls for emergency mental health / The Washington Post.

Starting in June, DC police won’t be the first to respond to some mental health calls in the city.

Under a new pilot program, 911 operators will dispatch unarmed teams of behavioral health experts and peers to the scene.

The move was recommended last month by the DC police reform commission, as part of local and national efforts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to reduce violent contact between the public and law enforcement.

We want to make sure we’re not doing “more of an event by sending a uniformed officer there if it’s not necessary,” said Cleo Subido, acting director of the Office of Unified Communications. In “some kind of situation where there is mistrust of law enforcement, or mistrust of the fire department or strangers,” he said, sending in the police “could be doing a disservice.”

But DC officials say the goal is better service, not police reform. Subido compared the change to a program that began four years ago to divert some calls about relatively minor physical ailments to registered nurses: “This really reflects that.”

Read more: One dead and three injured in a shooting in northeast DC

Working in conjunction with the DC police

Barbara J. Bazron, director of the DC Department of Behavioral Health, said the office “works closely with the Metropolitan Police Department,” including training officers to respond to mental health crises. He said the new program will help residents “get the best and most appropriate care.”

His office already has a crisis response team to handle psychiatric emergencies and drug overdoses; the goal is to connect people to that service directly through 911.

Subido said DC receives about 90 calls a day related to behavioral health issues and expects about 25 of them to be diverted through the new program.

During the six-month pilot phase, behavioral health teams will be available from 6 am to 6 pm. The goal is to expand the service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by 2022. The teams will include doctors and people who have experienced psychological problems.

The Washington Post. Free translation by El Tiempo Latino

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