St. Louis taking new steps to address 911 concerns, mental health cases

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resolving its 911 call crisis by helping

ST. LOUIS- We hear about it again and again: people dialing 911 in St. Louis and getting no answer or being put on hold.

“I think people are so used to calling 911 because they don’t know where else to call, that that’s what they do,” said Wil Pinkney, Director of Children, Youth, and Families, for the City of St. Louis. “Until we show people that there is an alternative, that’s what they’ll continue to do.”

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has just approved a $1.6 million, 5-year federal grant for a diversion program to reach those with serious mental illness and connect them with life-changing services before there’s a need for police.

“So that we’re walking with the person,” Pinkney said. “Often times we just send people somewhere but we don’t follow up. This grant allows us to do that. That’s very important. That’s a game-changer because we don’t often have the resources to do that.”

It adds to existing diversion programs which include six behavioral health clinicians riding with city police, every day, he said.

There is also the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s new 911 system which is now up and running.

“There’s a viper 911 system, that distinguishes. It’s very important to be able to distinguish emergency calls from non-emergency calls,” said Police Chief, John Hayden.

The programs should lighten the load for more than just police in St. Louis, Pinkney said.

“We’ve done a lot in these programs to decrease unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Our EMS department is severely taxed,” he said.

The programs have prevented about 30 trips to ERs in a 3-month span, he said. The new grant could more than triple that outreach, taking quite the load off of those three “most dialed” numbers.

“If you think about 1 incident can have an average of 6 or 7 calls, if you can take 1 incident off you’re taking off a huge number of calls to 911, which then helps with the dispatchers and all the challenges we’re having even as we’re moving toward addressing those challenges and hiring more dispatchers,” he said.

Most importantly, it gets lasting help for those who need it, the right kind of help.

You can call the Behavioral Health Response crisis lines for mental health resources as an
alternative to 911. Call 314-469-6644 or 800-811-4760.

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