(Reprinted from NPR’s Deepa Shivaram originally published July 23, 2021)
December 20, 2021
A New York City pilot program that dispatches mental health specialists and paramedics instead of police for certain nonviolent emergency calls has resulted in more people accepting assistance and fewer people sent to the hospital, early data shows.
It’s one of a number of programs underway around the country trying to address police violence and systemic racism following George Floyd’s murder by providing alternatives to sending law enforcement to respond to emergency calls involving issues such as mental health or drug and alcohol crises.
In June, New York City started its Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, or B-HEARD, to provide more targeted care for those struggling with mental health issues and emergencies such as suicide attempts, substance misuse and serious mental illness.
During the first month of the pilot program, B-HEARD teams — consisting of fire department paramedics and social workers — responded to calls in northern Manhattan, which includes parts of Harlem and receives the city’s highest number of mental health emergency calls.
From June 6 to July 7, B-HEARD received roughly 16 mental health calls each day in this zone.
In 95% of cases, people accepted care from the B-HEARD team, data from the city shows. That’s compared with 82% for traditional 911 response teams, which include police.
Additionally, 50% of people treated by B-HEARD were transported to the hospital for more care, a far lower number than the 82% who are transported to the hospital with traditional 911 response.
The city said that 911 operators routed 138 mental health emergency calls — 25% of the number of calls during the pilot period — to B-HEARD and expect that number to grow to 50% in the coming months.
“This is great news. A smarter approach to public health and public safety. A smarter use of resources. And the evidence — from Denver to New York — shows that responding with care works,” U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., tweeted.
New York’s program is modeled after a successful, decades-old program in Eugene, Ore., known as Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS. Other similar programs have launched in California, Colorado, Georgia and Montana.
In Minneapolis, where police killed Floyd last summer, the city will start sending out civil crisis response teams instead of police to certain mental health calls next month.
Mental health-related calls accounted for 22% of cases in which on-duty police used lethal force and killed someone, according to data from 2009 to 2012 from 17 states where data was available.