Featured press / March 3, 2021

NY1: De Blasio administration briefs City Council on mental health response pilot program 

It’s a major shift in how the city responds to people suffering a mental health emergency: if the person is non-violent, the NYPD generally will not be part of the response.

“The new mental health response teams will be jointly managed by H + H and FDNY EMS,” explained Susan Herman, the director of Thrive NYC, the city’s mental health program. “They talk to each other multiple times a day; they will be co-located.”

The de Blasio administration briefed the City Council on the plan at a hearing on Monday. Each response team will have three members: a social worker from New York City Health and Hospitals, and two EMTs from the FDNY.

Until now, the NYPD has been part of the city’s response to people suffering a mental health crisis. But Mayor Bill de Blasio promised reforms in 2016 after a woman with a history of mental illness, 66-year-old Deborah Danner, was shot dead by police in her own apartment. The city’s public advocate and council members endorsed the changes, saying NYPD officers don’t have sufficient training to handle mental health calls.

“We have seen far too many incidents where the inclusion of officers in unpredicted situations wrongfully escalate. Mental health should not be seen as an untreated public threat,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said.

Herman reiterated the NYPD will still respond to any incident involving a weapon.

“Starting in spring 2021, in Nnrthern Manhattan, specifically the 25th, 28th and 32nd Precincts in East and Central Harlem, the new mental health response teams of Health and Hospitals social workers and FDNY EMTs will be the new primary response to mental health emergencies,” Herman said. 

Herman said the new response teams will be deployed for 16 hours a day, matching the time period when most mental health emergencies occur, including the early morning hours.  

Ruth Lowenkron, the director of the Disability Justice Program at NYLPI, said the city’s goal of having the new mental health teams respond within 30 minutes was insufficient. 

“When you’re talking about emergencies, as this bill does, you cannot say you are going to respond to an emergency for people with mental disabilities in far more time than the 8-10 minutes that you do typically,” said. 

The city said 911 and 311 operators will be trained in the new protocols, and that the goal is to expand the non-police response teams citywide as soon as possible. 

This piece was published by NY1.

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