DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a new pilot program that will shift 911 calls about emergency mental health situations from a police dispatch to teams of behavioral health experts.
The city’s announcement of the pilot scheduled for June comes during Mental Health Awareness Month.
“This program builds on all our efforts to make sure we are providing residents the right care at the right time,” Bowser said in a release. “The sooner we can identify what a person needs – whether that is an ambulance, a doctor’s appointment, or in this case, a visit from a behavioral health expert, the sooner we can help them. That’s what this is about: making sure we get Washingtonians the help they need when they call us.”
Dispatchers for 911 will be able to send specialized, rapid response units called “community response teams” that are part of the Department of Behavioral Health to mental health-related calls, instead of automatically referring such cases to police officers.
As part of mental health awareness month, we're launching a new mental health emergency dispatch pilot program. It will shift 911 calls for emergency mental health services from an automatic police dispatch to a dispatch inclusive of a mental health crisis response.
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) May 18, 2021
The Department will train operators at the 911 call center so that they can identify incidents that require a mental health crisis response and whether a police dispatch is appropriate.
This program will strengthen the clinical response to all crisis calls for mental health care, providing residents the best, most appropriate treatment and supports, according to the Department’s Director Dr. Barbara Bazron.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with DBH to create new pathways for management of the city’s 911 calls,” said Cleo Subido, Interim Director of the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), which is a partner of the program. “At the OUC, we recognize how critical it is to dispatch the most appropriate response to emergency incidents.”