De Blasio is on Proper Observe, However Psychological Well being Response Groups Want Essential Modifications to Actually Work

Emergency assistance (Photo: Benjamin Kanter / Mayoral Photo Office)

Last month, Mayor de Blasio unveiled his FY2022 executive budget, which included a $ 112 million item to expand his pilot mental health team that had yet to get underway across the city. Minimizing the role of police officers in responding to mental health emergency calls is a sure sign of progress, but the fact is that law enforcement is absolutely irrelevant in a truly compassionate and proportionate crisis response system

Eighteen New Yorkers suffering from mental health problems were killed in clashes with the police over the five year period from 2015 to 2020, not to mention the many other injured and other injured.

De Blasio’s proposal holds on to the transformation needed to help New Yorkers get the right support in their time of crisis. If the system is to save lives, two main issues need to be addressed: the role of the police must be removed, beyond the 30 +% of calls that the city estimates still require police intervention; and the inclusion of peers – those with lived experience of mental crisis – in the teams is essential.

According to the city, the proposed mental health teams, consisting of a licensed clinical social worker and emergency physicians from the city’s emergency service (EMS), will be deployed to “urgent, nonviolent mental health needs”. Whether or not the police are dispatched is entirely up to the existing 911 call center staff, who must use their judgment to determine whether someone is a “public safety risk”. This is a crucial decision and a completely inappropriate embedding in the existing 911 processes. Leaving this decision to the discretion of the NYPD 911 call center leaves little hope for a sensible use of the police and puts those in need of care at risk.

Meanwhile, the city’s failure to meaningfully involve trained colleagues is unacceptable. We cannot develop or deploy new services without drawing on the expertise of those most affected by these systems. “Nothing about us, without us” has been a clear text of the disability rights movement for decades. Then why has the government failed to take into account the recommendations of those with real experience in reforming our rapid response system?

Our system needs transformation, not just reform, and peer participation in the service delivery system is the way to ensure transformative change. Without peers as required components of the new teams, the city risks replacing one faulty system with another.

Correct Crisis Intervention Today in NYC (CCIT-NYC) developed a proposal, first presented to the de Blasio administration last spring, that adequately addresses these issues. Our mental health teams consist of a trained peer and an independent emergency medical practitioner (EMT). Given the embedding of the city’s EMS in the current, flawed system and EMS own admission that it does not want to take on this task, we consider independent EMTs to be the better choice. And we built our proposal on successful models found elsewhere in the country, such as CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, which have a nearly 40-year track record of responding to mental crisis without a single injury to crisis patients or their staff.

Most importantly, our proposal was developed by the very people who are likely to be on the receiving end of such a system. Indeed, many of us have had experience with police officers in crisis situations.

De Blasio’s initiative is a welcome first step, but the city needs to look again and get it right. Otherwise, there is a risk that New Yorkers will be seriously harmed by police violence in a crisis. System transformation is possible. It’s long overdue. And it has to happen now.

Community Access CEO Cal Hedigan and Community Access Advocacy Coordinator Carla Rabinowitz are members of Correct Crisis Intervention Today – NYC (CCIT-NYC). On Twitter @ca_nyc and @ccitnyc.

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