New York City will have mental-health experts rather than police officers take the lead in responding to some 911 calls involving mental-health emergencies, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports. The pilot program, which will begin in February, will reduce the role of police in responding to such calls, the mayor said. Mental-health emergencies accounted for 171,490 911 calls in the city in 2019. The program will be rolled out in two precincts in high-need areas.
Under existing protocols, 911 calls reporting individuals experiencing emotional distress are fielded by police officers and emergency-medical-services responders from the fire department. In the pilot program, most such calls will be answered by social workers and mental-health-crisis workers employed by the city. NYPD will be included in such responses only in cases where there is a clear threat of violence, a small minority of such 911 calls. The change comes as the department faces significant budget cuts and calls by political leaders for new limitations on its responsibilities. NYPD has been criticized for its handling of responses to residents experiencing mental-health crises. De Blasio in 2018 launched a task force aimed at improving city responses to emergencies involving the mentally ill after officers fatally shot a mentally disturbed man they thought was armed with a gun. Patrick Lynch, president of the NYPD officers’ union said de Blasio’s plan failed to address the root causes of mental-health issues in the city. “We need a complete overhaul of the rest of our mental-health care system, so that we can help people before they are in crisis, rather than just picking up the pieces afterward,” he said.