DC launches pilot program shifting some mental health calls away from police

Officials anticipate sending the new teams to about a third of all behavioral health calls the center gets each day


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By Suzie Ziegler

WASHINGTON — Starting in June, D.C. dispatchers can send a team of behavioral health professionals to some 911 calls instead of police.

According to WUSA, the city will start deploying community response teams to certain mental crisis calls. The pilot program is a partnership between the city’s offices of public safety and justice, health and human services, communications and the behavioral health department.

Cleo Subido, a veteran dispatcher and the interim director of the Office of Unified Communications, says the answer may not always be police.

“I can think of a lot of times where in, you know, in 30 years, that I’ve maybe taken a call from a mom whose teenager, you know, has some identified behavioral health issues, but it’s not really a law enforcement issue,” she told WUSA.

Subido said her office gets about 90 calls a day for behavioral health incidents. She anticipates sending the new teams to about a third of them.

Before the mental crisis team is sent out, Subido says dispatchers will take multiple factors into consideration before making the decision. Police will be sent if the subject poses a danger to themselves or others.

“What we will screen for is just really, is this a situation where maybe a family member just needs some input on how to handle a circumstance? They just need support, they need resources, there might be something happening now, but it’s not in any way violent,” Subido told WUSA. “And we also don’t want to put officers in a position where they’re not the best perhaps to handle it, or they might even, you know, make someone have a certain reaction to their presence.”