Clear Creek County in Colorado is one of the latest places to begin using mental health teams to answer some emergency 911 calls.
Mental health response teams are not new. Many large cities put such teams in place after the killing of George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis in 2020.
Some people believe mental health response teams might be more successful in answering some emergency 911 calls than police. The job of a mental health worker is to help people who have emotional problems or mental sickness. The job of the police is to enforce laws. They are not trained to treat mental health conditions.
In Clear Creek County, the case of Christian Glass received a lot of attention. News reports said Glass called the 911 emergency phone number when his car got stuck on the roadside. Police answered the call, but Glass refused to get out of his car.
Later, the police broke the car window. Glass threatened them with a small knife. He was then shot and killed by police. The lawyer for Glass’s parents said he was having a mental health crisis. He believed that supernatural beings meant to harm him.
After legal action, Clear Creak County agreed to pay $19 million as a result of the case and two officers face criminal charges.
New York City officials said mental health response teams resolve half of their calls by talking to people or taking them to social services or community health centers. However, the Associated Press (AP) reported that workers for the city’s mental health crisis program, called B-HEARD, have had difficulty dealing with the number of calls and cases. The program answered about two percent of the 171,000 calls throughout the city in 2022.
Carleigh Sailon was a mental health response team supervisor who used to work in a program in Denver, Colorado. She said mental health teams aim to meet the needs of the community and send the right experts to solve the problems.
Mental health teams may also have more time to spend in response to an emergency call than police. That could be a reason that mental health response teams might be more successful than police in answering some 911 calls.
For example, a mental health team responded to a 911 call about a homeless man in Denver, Colorado. The team spent three hours helping the man get a form of identification, food, and medications. They also took him to a shelter designed to house homeless people. Police might spend 10 to 90 minutes on a call.
This would not be long enough to help a homeless person.
At least 14 of America’s 20 biggest cities are using mental health teams to answer some emergency 911 calls. New York City, Los Angeles; Houston, Texas; and Columbus, Ohio, spent almost $125 million on their programs. Smaller cities are also starting to use the teams.
The AP reports that federal government information is incomplete on how effective mental health response teams are. But a recent study of a mental health response program in Denver from Stanford University suggested they have good results. The 2022 study found that, in some Denver neighborhoods where the programs were in place, few small crimes were reported while violent crimes remained unchanged.
At a conference discussing mental health teams in Washington, D.C. this spring, officials from several cities discussed using mental health response teams. They said they faced difficulties in finding enough trained mental health workers, training workers at 911 call centers and sending unarmed civilians into situations that could be dangerous.
However, an official for New York’s B-HEARD program believes the effort is important.
Laquisha Grant is with the New York Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health. She said, “We really think that every single B-HEARD response is just a better way that we, the city, are providing care to people.”
I’m Gena Bennett.
Gena Bennett adapted this Associated Press report for VOA Learning English with the addition of other sources.
Words in This Story
stuck –adj. unable to move; trapped in a spot or place
supernatural –n. unable to be explained by science or laws; seeming to come from something beyond this world