D.C. extends program that redirects 911 mental crisis calls to social workers

Officials hope that by next year mental health professionals could respond to one-third of all mental crisis calls to 911


By Suzie Ziegler 

WASHINGTON — A pilot program in the nation’s capital that redirects some 911 calls to social workers will be extended, according to WTOP

The Mental Health Emergency Dispatch Program, which began in May 2021, aims to divert nonviolent mental crisis calls from police. Starting in January, the program will extend its hours from 12 to 24 hours a day, according to the report. The city is also hiring more social workers to keep up with the new hours. 

Cleo Subido, the interim director of the Office of Unified Communications, tells WTOP that their goal is to have one-third of all mental health calls redirected to a dedicated mental health team. 

“From June 1 to, I believe it was September, we transferred over 300 calls,” Subido said. 

Calls are diverted from police only when the involved individual is unarmed and doesn’t pose a safety threat, according to the report. 

When the program expands in January, mental health counselors will be eligible to respond to more types of calls. Currently, only police officers respond when the individual in crisis is reported by a third-party caller. But in the next phase, crisis counselors could respond to some of those calls. 

As of now, about two out of 90 daily mental crisis calls to 911 are diverted to mental health professionals, according to the report. Subido says the goal next year is to send as many as 30 calls a day to crisis counselors. 

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