Across the US, multiple cities are sending mental health professionals to respond to people in crisis instead of police officers. The programs were implemented following the months-long protests over the summer that called for structural changes in how communities are policed.
On Monday (April 5), former President Barack Obama weighed in on the initiatives, calling them a “promising development.”
“More places are experimenting with programs that send civilian responders instead of police to help people experiencing mental health crises. It’s a promising development in law enforcement in the wake of this summer’s protests,” Obama wrote in a pair of tweets as reported by The Hill.
According to a report by USA Today, the programs are being piloted and run in Denver, Colorado, Olympia, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon, and seem to be working. The Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program in Denver deploys a two-person team, a medic and a clinician to calls involving people experiencing mental health crises. The program responded to 748 calls over the course of six months and none of those calls required police assistance, and no arrests were made.
USA Today cited a 2016 study released in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that approximated that nearly half of fatal encounters with law enforcement involve someone who has a mental illness. Since 2015, about 25 percent of people fatally shot by officers have had a mental illness, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post.
Some cases of fatal encounters with police, like that of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York and Marvin Scott III in Dallas, Texas, have brought national attention to this data and need for alternatives. USA Today reported that New York state lawmakers are considering a bill called Daniel's Law, in honor of Prude, that would permit mental health professionals to respond to emergencies.
Similar programs are reportedly being launched in Austin, Texas, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Portland, Oregon. Even more cities, like Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Charlotte, North Carolina are looking to form their own mental health response teams.
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