New Data Show NYC Gets Better, Safer Results Sending Non-Police in Response To Mental Health 911 Calls
Calls to “defund the police”—shifting budget dollars from policing to social services, whose professionals are better trained to respond to many 911 calls—got a huge credibility boost from a pilot program that concluded July 7, 2021, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. There, statistics demonstrate that social workers responding to mental health emergency calls achieved much better results than police typically do.
Social workers with B-HEARD—the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division—responded to over a hundred mental health crisis 911 calls during a one-month period beginning June 6, 2021, representing about 25 percent of the total calls received. Officers with the city’s police department (NYPD) responded to the rest, along with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paramedics, providing a real-time comparison of the two.
First, the B-HEARD professionals got more people to accept help—95 percent— than NYPD officers typically do. Working with EMS personnel, officers usually succeed in getting just 82 percent of their crisis-call subjects to accept treatment.
Also, the help that social workers provided was more targeted. Instead of sending 82 percent of their subjects to the hospital, like police officers and paramedics do, the B-HEARD teams sent only half of their subjects to an emergency room, treating another 25 percent at the scene and transporting an additional 20 percent to community-based treatment centers.
Only in seven of the instances did social workers have to call for police assistance because of a weapon or threat of violence. Police officers, on the other hand, called for help from a B-HEARD team twice as often—14 times.
Modeled after a mobile response initiative in Eugene, Oregon, called CAHOOTS—Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets—the New York project aims to decrease the risk of violence that typically accompanies a police response to a mental-health crisis call, when subjects are 16 times more likely to end up dead than other 911 callers, according to a 2015 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
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