The Baltimore mayor recently announced that certain 911 calls will not be answered by police, but rather by mental health professionals.
According to CBS Baltimore, Mayor Brandon Scott "wants police to focus on violent offenders and said officers should not be handling calls for people having behavioral health issues." The move comes as the city's violent crime rate continues to rise, which has lead to calls for increased police presence.
As Mayor Scott pointed out, the program will "allow [Baltimore's] officers to spend more time focusing on violence", and that "approximately 13,000 calls come into [Baltimore's] 9-1-1 system each year for people in crisis." In a press release, Mayor Scott added that "Baltimore is home to world-class medical institutions, and we have an opportunity to deliver premier clinical care and supportive services to residents experiencing behavioral health and substance use crises."
The program is set to take effect in June 2021, and will divide calls into two categories, " 'non-suicidal and alert' (psychiatric/abnormal behavior/suicide) and 'suicidal and alert' (psychiatric/abnormal behavior/suicide)." According to Mayor Scott, "these two categories alone account for an estimated 1,000 calls received by 9-1-1 operators annually."
The city is one of only a few in the United States who have instituted such programs. Senator Chris Van Hollen said what many have been thinking as of late; "Not every emergency call requires a police response." The separation of violent and non-violent calls allows police to focus on the former, and more qualified health professionals to handle the latter.
The city's press release stated that residents can simply call 911, and "If the call is identified as appropriate for referral, the 9-1-1 specialist will connect the caller to a trained mental health clinician at the Here2Help line, operated by BCRI."