On Monday (April 26), NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the expansion of a program to have non-police responses to mental health emergencies. Under the program expansion, social workers and EMS personnel would start responding to non-violent mental health emergencies citywide, instead of the select precincts.
The city first announced it would pilot a non-police emergency response program in November 2020, for three areas of Harlem and East Harlem, following similar models multiple cities across the nation use. An actual launch of the program didn’t start until the end of February of this year, and now the program is being expanded.
“We’re now convinced that this approach is going to work citywide,” de Blasio said during a budget briefing on Monday (April 26), according to a report by PIX 11. “So, for mental health crisis calls, we’re going to take that civilian approach and use it in all precincts in the city in the course of the upcoming fiscal year.”
EMS officials in NYC, however, aren’t so sure about the mayor’s rush to expand the program.
“Expanding it city wide? We’re not even up and running yet,” Anthony Almojera, a NYC EMS lieutenant, said in an interview. “A lot of members didn’t jump at the opportunity to go and face heightened danger for the same pay.”
According to PIX 11, 911 dispatchers in NYC received about 154,000 calls for mental health help last year. Estimates show that one in five New York City residents struggles with mental health issues. Police encounters have often turned deadly when mental health is a factor, prompting cities to implement non-police emergency responses as the nation reckons with calls for changes to be made in policing.
In addition to having EMS and social workers respond to mental health emergencies, de Blasio’s plan includes training at community-based organizations so that people can get informed about how to help out with their community’s mental health needs.
“The whole idea is to make sure that any community organization has mental health capacity built into it,” de Blasio said.
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