ST. LOUIS – Mental illness is not a crime, but many call upon the police as first responders in a mental health crisis. Now, St. Louis is changing the use of police that too often has led to injury and even death.
Diverting mental health calls away from 911 is the model St. Louis City is looking at as they try to solve public health problems whether than criminalize mental health issues and addiction. The city is partnering with Behavioral Health Response, or BHR, in an initiative known as the 911 Diversion and Co-Responder Program.
” This will be the first external fully implemented program in the country where we will divert calls through the 911 call system directly to Behavioral Health Response in the city of Saint Louis”, said Wilford Pinkney, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s Director of Children, Youth, and Families.
Pinkney, who helped create the program said this two-fold program not only diverts calls but embeds mental health workers with police.
” The Co-responder model is where clinicians will ride with police officers and people can receive the appropriate level of care from people who are trained to do this work day in and day out”, said Pinkney.
The second approach to the program is to make people feel as comfortable as possible. They do that by being non-threatening.
Tiffany Lacy Clark, COO of Behavior Health Response explains the Behavioral Health team along with officers will show up nonuniformed and make sure the scene is safe and everybody is secure.
“The mental health professional will then be able to talk to the person in crisis, deescalate the situation and figure out what resources they need then be able to lead them to the appropriate resources,” said Clark.
She said that it is important for the community to feel empowered if you or a loved one has to make that call.
“If we haven’t learned anything during this global pandemic we should all know that people are vulnerable to whatever circumstances life has for us”, said Lacy Clark. “So being able to have a language to articulate that someone needs help not a police response or to be in jail is the first step”.
Cities around the United States are implementing similar programs to reduce potentially deadly interactions between police and people in crisis and St. Louis will roll out this initiative in just a few weeks.
For more information, visit http://bhrstl.org/ or call 314-469-4908.