North Carolina City to Begin Sending Unarmed Mental Health Counselors Instead of Police in Some Situations

The North Carolina city of Durham is set to begin sending unarmed mental health counselors to some situations that would have traditionally been handled by police.

Last year, the city approved a $ 2.8 million budget for the pilot program, in response to the death of George Floyd and the deadly summer of riots.

“There is an understanding that we asked too much of our officers. We ask them to respond to a whole wide range of needs. And when we look at the reason people call 911, they call for a bunch of reasons, ”Ryan Smith, Durham’s Community Safety Department director, told ABC 11. “Some of those reasons are related to crime and law enforcement and the kind of safety for which law enforcement officers are best suited and trained. But some of them are about the needs of individuals who are struggling with unmet mental health needs. ”

Under the new program, when people call 9-1-1 for help they will either be sent a mental health councilor, a police officer, or both – depending on the situation.

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“Nonviolent mental health crisis, suicide threats, welfare checks, panhandling and indecency are some of the types of calls the team is proposing its community response teams handle rather than officers,” the ABC report explains. “Co-responder teams would involve calls like involuntary commitments, drug use, domestic disturbances, and prosecution. These are calls the department classified with a slightly higher degree of risk but would also benefit from a mental health professional. Durham police spend an estimated 7,000 hours a year handling these calls. ”

The city will also be sending “care navigators” to follow up with people after an incident occurs.

“We are trying to take a very person-centered approach so what is going to matter most to me aren’t the number of calls we respond to but the outcomes of those calls,” Smith said. “Are the residents that we connect with, do they feel that they were well served by these teams? Are we able to get residents connected to the type of care that they need and want? ”

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