Philadelphia, stop sending the police to mental health crises
Imagine your loved one in danger. They are upset and nothing you say will help calm them down. Call 119 to get a professional to treat your symptoms. Instead of medical treatment, the police arrive. While you complain to the cops that your loved one has mental health problems, the cops shout orders. This is no imagined occurrence for Walter Wallace his junior family. This is what happened to him in October 2020 at Philadelphia West.
This is what many mental health emergencies in Philadelphia look like, with law enforcement defaulting on mental health crisis management.
In the event of a fire or health emergency, people don’t expect armed police to show up. But when it comes to mental health crises, trained professionals aren’t available 24/7 for him, so if someone calls his 911, it’s often the police who respond. . When we ask police to serve as social workers and mental health professionals, it creates a dangerous situation, especially for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Estimates suggest that up to half of fatal encounters with law enforcement nationwide involve people experiencing mental illness.
“Up to half of fatal encounters with law enforcement nationwide involve people experiencing mental illness.”
we are counselors Member of the “Treatment Not Trauma” coalition, which advocates non-police responses to mental health crises. We recommend the use of Peer Support Specialists (individuals with hands-on experience using crisis response services), Licensed Mental Health Her Clinicians, and Support Mobile Her Crisis Team staffed by medical professionals. Last year, we secured a $7.2 million budget increase for the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) to pilot the Mobile Crisis Team Expansion Program. This budget increase was celebrated as an opportunity to fund additional mobile crisis teams. The role of these teams is to provide mental health crisis response in the city, so police are not needed. Adding enough teams to adequately serve more cities was an important first step.
After over a year, I thought I could show how successful the program was and how many people it helped. Instead, the mobile crisis system has not been expanded and overhauled.
DBHIDS signed two more service providers in September, but the new mobile crisis team is still understaffed and not all teams are working 24/7. Commissioner Jill Bowen updated city council members in April that full implementation is not expected until the end of 2022.
The expansion of the Community Mobile Crisis Response Team has stalled, but the Crisis Intervention Response Team is operational from Spring 2021. Despite their similar names, the two resources are very different. Both use mental health professionals, but the Crisis Intervention Response Team includes armed police officers trained to respond to mental health emergencies, and critical peer support professionals. In short supply. This type of intervention is not very effective. Studies have not shown that people in a mental health crisis have a reduced risk of injury or death when they encounter a crisis intervention team that includes only police-to-police.
» Read more: Following other cities, Philadelphia will soon send experts to several mental health calls with police
If non-police mental health crisis responses don’t get the attention they deserve, they can be set to fail.
We cannot allow that, especially with the introduction of the new 988 National Mental Health Hotline. 988 has been criticized for still using the police, especially when local mobile emergency units are unavailable. So without a robust and fully functioning mobile crisis response team in Philadelphia, 988 counselors are very likely to turn to police officers. This is inconsistent with best practices for people experiencing mental health crises and poses greater risks to vulnerable people.
It’s never too late to show Philadelphia citizens that the City of Philadelphia is committed to non-police mental health crisis response. A mobile crisis team should be in place. Provide non-punitive transportation (i.e. no police vehicle transportation) to care centers. We provide our staff with sustainable wages and benefits.
Philadelphia people deserve care, not cops. You need therapy, not trauma. We deserve a crisis response informed by mental health providers dedicated to abolition and, most importantly, those who survived police interactions during mental health crises. , hopes that Philadelphia will do more than provide lip service to mental health and instead have a properly funded, staffed and mobile crisis unit.
Julia Lyon and Thomas Clancy both belong to the Philadelphia Treatment Not Trauma Coalition.