WASHINGTON (AP) — Police responding to a person gripped by a mental health or drug crisis can lead to tragic results. Now a government health program will help communities set up an alternative: mobile teams of behavioral health practitioners and paramedics trained in de-escalating such potentially volatile situations.
The effort to reinvent policing after the death of George Floyd in police custody is getting an assist from Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low-income people.
President Joe Biden’s recent coronavirus relief bill calls for an estimated $1 billion over 10 years in federal payments to states that set up mobile crisis teams, now locally operated in only a handful of places.
Dispatching teams of paramedics and behavioral health practitioners would take mental health crisis calls out of the hands of uniformed and armed officers, whose mere arrival may ratchet up tensions. In Eugene, Oregon, such a strategy has been in place more than 30 years, with solid backing from police.
The concept “fits nicely with what we are trying to do around police reform,” Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner told the Associated Press. The logic works “like a simple math problem,” he adds. “By sending the right resources I can make the assumption that there are going to be fewer times when officers are in situations that can turn violent. It actually de-conflicts, reducing the need for use of force.”
At least 14 cities around the country are interested in versions of that model, said Simone Brody, executive director of What Works Cities, a New York-based nonprofit that tries to promote change through effective use of data.