New York, NY – New York City police dispatchers will soon be sending social workers and EMTs instead of police in response to some 911 calls that involve mental health emergencies and the unions representing the first responders is angry about it.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program on Nov. 10 that will launch in two of the city’s communities in early 2021 with a goal of eliminating the need for police response, FOX News reported.
“One in five New Yorkers struggle with a mental health condition,” de Blasio said. “Now, more than ever, we must do everything we can to reach those people before crisis strikes.”
“For the first time in our city’s history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis, making sure those struggling with mental illness receive the help they need,” the mayor added.
The neighborhoods where the program will be launched have not yet been selected, WCBS reported.
He also announced that he had put his wife, Chirlane McCray, in charge of the initiative, according to a press release from the Office of the Mayor.
“This is the first time in our history that health professionals will be the default responders to mental health emergencies, an approach that is more compassionate and effective for better long term outcomes,” McCray said.
De Blasio said the social workers would be in charge on the scene and coordinate the effort, WCBS reported.
Police will be called in when there is a weapon involved or threat of harm, but the social worker will be in charge, according to the mayor.
Under current policy, police officers respond to 911 calls with EMTs, WCBS reported.
“We will fundamentally change the approach to mental health emergencies in this city,” de Blasio declared.
But the union that represents the EMTs that the mayor and his wife have proposed using to respond to the mental health emergencies has said that its members won’t be participating in the new initiative as it’s currently constructed, WCBS reported.
“This is a highly dangerous situation to our EMTs and paramedics at,” Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay said.
Barzilay that unless New York Police Department (NYPD) officers are also on the scene, he doesn’t plan to allow his EMTs to respond to mental health emergency calls with just a social worker, WCBS reported.
“On a daily basis, our members get assaulted as is, with the police present,” he said.
John Jay College Adjunct Professor Joe Giacalone, who is retired from NYPD, said the pilot program won’t last very long, WCBS reported.
“It’s only going to take, unfortunately, one violent encounter where a social worker, EMS worker, somebody gets hurt, and then the police are going to have to go to every one of these calls anyway,” Giacalone predicted.
The police union shared the opinion that the program wouldn’t work and called it “dangerous,” WCBS reported.
“Police officers know that we cannot single-handedly solve our city’s mental health disaster, but this plan will not do that, either. It will undoubtedly put our already-overtaxed EMS colleagues in dangerous situations without police support,” the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) said in a statement.
“We need a complete overhaul of the rest of our mental health care system, so that we can help people before they are in crisis, rather than just picking up the pieces afterward,” the PBA’s statement continued. “On that front, the de Blasio administration has done nothing but waste time and money with ThriveNYC and similar programs. We have no confidence that this long-delayed plan will produce any better results.”
The mayor’s office said that training has already begun for the special teams that will begin responding to 911 mental health calls in February of 2021, WCBS reported.
De Blasio said the end goal is to be able to roll the program out citywide.