NEW YORK — A pilot program that has kept NYPD officers away from many mental health crisis calls in parts of Manhattan will expand to every precinct citywide, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.
The program, tested this spring in three Harlem and East Harlem police precincts, relies on social workers and EMS to respond to non-violent mental health crisis calls.
“We’re now convinced that this approach is going to work citywide,” de Blasio said of the program during a budget briefing on Monday. “So, for mental health crisis calls, we’re going to take that civilian approach and use it in all precincts in the city in the course of the upcoming fiscal year.”
One in five New Yorkers struggle with mental illness, and 154,000 calls for help with mental illness came in to 911 dispatchers last year alone.
Police responses to some calls in the city have escalated to violence or even death, including the shooting deaths of Miguel Richards, Susan Muller and Deborah Danner. All of them suffered from mental illness; all were shot by NYPD officers during encounters inside their homes.
De Blasio said the COVID pandemic has made the importance of mental health — and how emergency calls are addressed — clearer than ever.
“If a family is in crisis, and it’s not a situation involving violence, we are going to send civilians to address those calls,” de Blasio added. “We have increasingly been using trained civilians prepared for exactly this kind of situation.”
The expanded citywide program is part of a multi-pronged approach to mental health, which also includes a new mobile treatment unit that will respond to more severe situations.
The unit will consist of 25 teams of highly trained professionals that can be quickly dispatched to the scene.
De Blasio also announced a new initiative that will train community-based organizations and peer counselors on how to handle mental health needs right in their community.
“The whole idea is to make sure that any community organization has mental health capacity built into it,” he added.
Correction: The spelling of Muller’s name has been updated.