DC extends program that directs 911 mental health calls to social workers, not police

The goal of the district’s mental health emergency dispatch program was to reduce the number of police-involved shootings that occur when the subject of the emergency call is mentally unstable.

DC is set to expand a pilot initiative where certain police calls related to mental health emergencies are directed to the city’s social workers who are best prepared to handle the situation.

The goal of the county’s mental health emergency dispatch program, implemented by Mayor Bowser in May, was to reduce the number of police shootings that occur when the subject of the emergency call is mentally unstable.

Cleo Subido, interim director of the Office of Unified Communications, told WTOP Monday that the city is hiring more social workers for the next phase of the program, with the goal of getting a third of all mental health calls directed to a mental health professional team by phase three. The program will also extend its operating hours from 12 to 24 hours a day.

The extension reports were first reported by CityLab in Bloomberg on Friday.

“From June 1 to, I think it was September, we transferred over 300 calls,” Subido said.

Calls to the Behavioral Health Department include only calls in which the individual is not armed and does not pose a threat to their safety.

Subido estimates that up to 40 individuals should be added to the ranks of the Department of Behavioral Health’s helpline and community response teams to increase the city’s ability to have 911 call recipients forward more calls to mental health counselors.

“We really hope this ends up with better care, that’s what it’s about – better care,” said Subido.

When the program expands in January, not only will the ability to forward calls be expanded to include around the clock, but the type of events that are reported will be expanded to 911 call providers who qualify for a mental health counselor, rather than a police officer.

In the current phase of the pilot program, third-party calls have reported a mental disorder case where the patient is not with the caller being handled by the police. That will change under the second phase of the program expected to start in January.

“The volume of calls we restrict is limited to those where we can talk to the patient or to someone with the patient,” Subido said. “If it’s just a third party passing by, we don’t send those to DBH. In Phase 2, we will.”

The pilot’s idea first gained momentum in the summer of 2020 as nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis dominated the news. In the wake of the protests, the Metropolitan Council created a 20-member Metropolitan Police Reform Committee tasked with proposing substantive changes to how police operate in the area.

Nearly a year later, in April 2021, the commission submitted a full report and a set of 90 recommendations to the council titled “Abolition of the Police Station to Improve Public Safety.” Among these recommendations was a change in the handling of mental health calls.

In a section entitled “Facing the Crisis with Specialized Skills and Compassion,” the committee’s report stated:

“Reliance primarily or exclusively on the police as crisis responders puts residents and officers at unnecessarily harm. It is a fundamental misuse of law enforcement resources that leads to unnecessary contact with already over-policing and underserved communities, perpetuating fear and mistrust in the police, While people’s needs are often left unaddressed.

Behavioral health care professionals and other professionals, operating from a scientific, traumatic, anti-racist, cultural and societal perspective, should be the first resort and be accompanied by police only when there is a significant risk to public safety. “

While about two of about 90 daily 911 calls involving mental disorders are currently being forwarded from police to mental health counselors, Subido said with the addition of DBH employees next year, the goal is to send up to 30 calls per day to mental health professionals who will So. Either provide resources by phone or send in a community response team.

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