Lawyers argue for 911 improvements, but opinions are still divided among police

United States — Police often mishandle situations involving people in mental health crisis, as evidenced by a mountain of data. As a result, people of color are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of mental illness and the resulting mortality.

Public Health Advocates, a Davis-based health policy nonprofit, commissioned a survey showing that more than two-thirds of California voters support the inclusion of mental health specialists on emergency response teams. for situations that do not pose an immediate threat to life.

Voters think law enforcement is the least prepared to respond to calls about mental health crises and homelessness, among seven types of scenarios that may require emergency response, according to a May 24 poll .

“Police response has become the oversized band-aid for something the band-aid was never designed to cover or cure,” said Ryan McClinton, who oversees the First Response Transformation Campaign at Public Health Advocates. His organization is working with other Californians to reform the state’s 911 system so that people trained in mental health can respond to more calls for help instead of the police.

Police force officials generally agree that responding to 911 could use some subtlety. However, strong police unions oppose any plan that would limit their authority over 911 services, including associated funding and personnel. Police service respondents indicated a preference for solutions that would complement rather than replace the current 911 infrastructure.

According to Tim Davis, union leader for the Sacramento Police Officers Association, “our 911 dispatchers are doing an amazing job and are the perfect people to handle people in crisis.” Since the vast majority of calls to 911 are for police assistance, it is crucial that the police continue to oversee the program.

However, according to McClinton, the emergency response systems are outdated and need to be modernized. Many counties in California are already in the midst of transition. According to a survey by the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, 41 of California’s 58 counties offer some sort of mobile crisis service through which mental health practitioners can respond to emergencies in the community.

According to Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the CBHDA, mobile crisis services will be operational in every county in California by early next year. In 1968, the original purpose of the 911 system was to report fires. However, it has become a catch-all for directing a wide variety of law enforcement calls. More than 25 million 911 calls are made each year in the Golden State. A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services in 2021 found that up to 15% of all emergency room visits were for mental health issues.

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