DC’s new mental health pilot program shifts 911 calls away from police

D.C. is launching a pilot program that moves 911 calls for mental health emergency services away from police and toward teams of health experts.

“This program builds on all our efforts to make sure we are providing residents the right care at the right time,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

“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.”

The pilot launches in June. It’s a partnership between the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, the Office of the City Administrator, the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) and the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH).

According to a news release, during the pilot, DBH’s Community Response Teams (CRT) will serve as specialized, rapid response units dispatched to mental health-related 911 calls instead of automatically deploying police officers.

911 operators will get special training to identify when a CRT unit is needed or if officers are.

“This initiative strengthens the clinical response to all crisis calls for mental health care including those that come directly to DBH, as well as those through the 911 system to get people the best, most appropriate treatment and supports they need,” DBH Director Barbara Bazron said.

Interim OUC Director Cleo Subido said she was “grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with DBH to create new pathways for management of the city’s 911 calls.”

“At the OUC, we recognize how critical it is to dispatch the most appropriate response to emergency incidents.”

After the pilot program ends, OUC and DBH will look into more modifications to the system.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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