This program is focused on improving 911 responses to mental health issues

All too often, emergency calls related to issues of mental health are inadequately addressed by the police, instead of a specialized social care worker. But in Dallas, that’s not necessarily always the case.

If you call 911 in certain neighborhoods in Dallas, a licensed specialist at the dispatch center will determine if the call relates to a mental health crisis. If it does, it won’t just be the police that responds to the call.

Instead, a team led by a mental health professional will show up and try to defuse the situation, hopefully leading to an outcome that doesn’t result in violence, incarceration, or unnecessary hospitalization.

The approach is a result of a program called the RIGHT (Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team) Care program, which diverts emergency 911 calls that are evidently mental health-related from the police to social workers and paramedics.

Previously, the police would respond to all 911 calls, often to the detriment of those reaching out with mental health emergencies, meaning that chronically mentally ill people were just going to jail or the ER, to the point where hospitals were over capacity and didn’t have enough resources to care for them. With RIGHT, things are a little bit different. When a licensed clinician at the dispatch center assesses that there’s a mental health emergency, a team consisting of a social worker, a police officer, and a paramedic, is sent to the scene to respond accordingly.

The police officer is on the scene for safety purposes, and the paramedic to check for physical injuries. But the scene is the social worker’s jurisdiction, and they decide the best form of treatment. And the data shows the progress: Between pre-launch and 2019, admittance to the ER decreased by 9% and arrests dropped by 8% in the targeted zip codes, while the rates increased in the rest of the city.

The grant ended May 31, but it’s a testament to the program’s success that it is continuing, with plans to expand to the entire city of Dallas. More importantly, in the current context of policing reform and alternatives, the program could serve as a model for the departments around the country.

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