Minneapolis To Send Civilian Response Teams, Not Police, For Some Mental Health Calls | national

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MINNEAPOLIS – Officials in Minneapolis this week announced the launch of a new civilian crisis response body to handle some mental health emergencies without police, a move that lawmakers and advocates say will lead to better results for people in crisis.

The pilot program, operated by Canopy Mental Health and Consulting of Richfield, features mental health professionals in teams of two who will be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. approved a two-year, $ 6 million contract with Canopy, which beat three other vendors.

Officers will still respond to some mental health-related emergencies, such as those involving a weapon, but the new mobile response teams will be dispatched to many ‘behavioral health’ calls.

The change responds to a key demand from activists, who since George Floyd’s murder have targeted the city’s dependence on police for emergencies that don’t necessarily require an armed response. The first teams will hit the streets next month, officials said.

“We have found a culturally competent supplier who reflects the community and shares our values,” City Council member Phillipe Cunningham said at a meeting of the public health and safety committee Thursday. “This is what it looks like to take something from a community request throughout concrete action.”

Earlier in the meeting, board members heard from Jimmie Heags Jr., of Canopy, who said the business is predominantly black-owned and focused on “centering the experiences and mental health needs of BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) and other marginalized communities. “

He added that the company was founded last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil following Floyd’s murder, with “the vision to center the experiences and mental health needs of BIPOC and other marginalized communities ”.

A message left with Heags on Friday was not immediately returned.

Last December, the Council voted to reallocate nearly $ 8 million from the MPD’s budget to fund its vision of crime prevention, which prioritizes mental health care and addiction treatment to cope with cycles. trauma that can lead to violence in poor communities.

The change comes as cities across the country invest in teams of mental health counselors, gang response workers and other professionals for low-risk calls, instead of officers.

In an interview on Friday, council member Steve Fletcher said the new approach came in part from the city’s 911 / Police Department task force, which explored alternatives to police involvement in certain interventions in the city. ’emergency. He said city staff have also been investigating similar initiatives in Eugene, Ore. And Denver, including the Support Team Assistance Response, or STAR, pilot program that pairs paramedics and clinicians with mental health-related calls. , depression, poverty, homelessness or substance abuse problems.

Ultimately, said Fletcher, the goal of the new program is to build public confidence and reduce the sometimes violent interactions between police and those facing a mental health crisis. He said officials would spend the next few months assessing the effectiveness of the program – “How many appeals are there, what kinds of results are we seeing? – before reporting back to the board with their findings later this year.

“One of the unknowns is whether once people know there is an unarmed response that most people feel safe with, it’s if they call 911 more often,” he said. said Fletcher. “We will ask whether this service could expand into other behavioral areas or whether we want to keep it specifically focused.”

He said 911 dispatchers recently received training to help them recognize calls when a non-police response would be more appropriate.

Some, inside and outside the MPD, point out that the police can still be called because some mental health calls can escalate without warning. It’s also unclear how the new program will work with the ministry’s existing co-stakeholder initiative, which pairs officers – wearing “soft uniforms” of navy polo shirts and pants, and driving unmarked cars – with mental health counselors. Police officials have in the past praised the program, which was temporarily sidelined during the pandemic, saying it resulted in fewer people with mental illnesses going to jail.

Department spokesman John Elder did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Minneapolis, like other departments across the country, has for years trained its officers in crisis intervention, but often officers who have encountered someone in the throes of a mental health crisis had few options.

If the appeal involved a low-level offense, such as trespassing or disorderly conduct, instead of taking him to jail, they could drop the person off at a county-run behavioral health center, which among other things services, provides mental health and chemical treatment. Others were taken to an area hospital, where they could potentially be placed on hold.

Critics say sending an armed officer to try to defuse a situation involving a mentally ill person could have the opposite effect. Mental health experts agree, noting that a specialist is likely to take a more empathetic approach and better equipped to recognize the signs of a person with a mental disorder, whose behavior even a trained agent may interpret as uncooperative and potentially threatening.

A 2016 Police Conduct Oversight Commission report called on the department to step up crisis response training, both for junior Academy officers and veterans, and to establish guidelines clear on when specialized CIT officers should be dispatched.

But, the report’s authors concluded, “Even with these practices in place, officers and community members are demanding additional resources and programs to deal with the consistently high number of agent interactions, the use of force and the incarceration of these people “.

While most people with mental illness are neither violent nor dangerous, a Minneapolis Star Tribune analysis of all use-of-force deaths in Minnesota found that at least 45% of those killed by military forces The order since 2000 had a history of mental illness or was in a mental health crisis.

One such incident occurred in Minneapolis in November 2018, when police shot dead an apparently suicidal man, Travis Jordan, 36, after he came out of his home armed with a large kitchen knife and refused. the police order to drop the gun. The two police officers involved were subsequently cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting, but family members argued that the police could have done more to defuse the situation.

The legislature this year passed a bill, named after Jordan, that would require 911 operators to refer mental health calls to mobile crisis teams “as appropriate”.

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© 2021 StarTribune. Visit to startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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