St. Louis 911 calls could go to crisis counselor, not dispatcher

The new program is estimated to route 5,000 emergency calls to mental health workers and match them with the police on the street

ST. LOUIS – Places like New York, Houston, Baltimore, and Tucson, Arizona have mental health professionals mesmerizing them when it comes to answering emergency calls – and now St. Louis, too.

This month, the Board of Estimation and Apportionment approved a contract with Behavioral Health Response to redirect some emergency calls to crisis intervention experts rather than dispatching emergency services. The program, known as the 911 Diversion and Co-Responder Program, will also match psychiatric workers with the police force who are responding to crisis situations on the street.

Tiffany Lacy Clark heads Behavioral Health Response, the agency the city contracts with to run the program.

“We are like air traffic control, when people call us they are in a crisis,” she said. “We talk to them, de-escalate the situation and then combine them with longer-term support for their needs.”

Launching the program in a city like St. Louis is now a step in the right direction when it comes to improving police-community relations, Lacy Clark said.

“We know that the police and the justice system have become a pseudo mental health treatment plan,” she said. “This gives us the opportunity to switch treatment back to treatment and let the criminal justice system focus on what they are trying to do.”

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Mayor Lyda Krewson cut around $ 860,000 from the prison budget for the program in June.

She said there are roughly 700,000 calls to 911 a year. Your office estimates that the forwarding program will now handle approximately 5,000 of these calls. However, dispatchers could still dispatch an officer if they discover there is a risk to public safety, she said.

“The 911 dispatchers receive extensive training to determine who is going there and in some cases a police officer can go too,” she said. “It’s really about getting people what they need versus a police car, a fire truck or an ambulance, getting people what they need so they can get through this moment of crisis and with the help that they need can get into a more stable situation. ”

Wilford Pickney, Krewson’s director for children, adolescents and families, helped create the program. He’s also a retired New York cop.

“Everyone wants to see cops driving around their neighborhood, right?” he said. “Well, if you take the time to deal with situations like this, it’s less time, you can run around and run around.”

Pickney oversaw two pilot programs that took place in St. Louis in 2019.

He did not yet have any data to report on the results.

The model approved by the Board of Alderman will put the program under the direction of the city’s health department.

Lacy Clark said other cities are seeing positive results, and she believes the St. Louis model will be even better because the mental health workers will be embedded in police officers.

Krewson said she expected the program to be fully operational by early 2021.

Lacy Clark said she’s hiring.

And lived experience is preferred.

“What better people can help, call, answer and guardians better than people who have experienced something similar?” She asked.

For more information, please visit http://bhrstl.org/ or call 314-469-4908.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate description of the voting conducted by the Board of Estimation and Apportionment.

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