Answering the call: Changing how 911 responds to mental health crises

The harshest neighborhoods of San Francisco seem to be dominated by the homeless, the mentally ill, and people who openly use drugs. But the Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, is cutting the police budget.

Correspondent John Blackstone asked, “Don’t you need more police on the street to change that?”

“We have to see things differently,” she replied. “The challenges people face are no longer what they used to be. And a police response doesn’t solve all of these problems.”

In San Francisco, many 911 calls no longer bring armed police officers; Instead, dispatchers send a so-called Street Crisis Response Team that is trained to deal with mental health problems.

Stephanie Chiri, behavioral therapist, is on one of these teams: “When someone has a mental crisis, especially psychosis, it can look scary to someone to see a person talking to themselves or screaming to heaven.”

“It’s scary you’re calling the police,” Blackstone said.

“Now you can also call and ask for us,” Chiri replied.

In 2019, the San Francisco Police Department answered more than 50,000 mental health-related calls.

“In our city, and I think across the country, law enforcement agencies have been given a lot of extra jobs and duties because there is no one else,” said fire chief Simon Pang, who is in charge of the crisis response teams. The members come from the city’s health department and fire department. They don’t carry guns.

“People who live on the street often have a history of complex trauma,” said Pang, “and law enforcement agencies, having someone with a gun can be very triggering and potentially escalating for them.”

This year, more than 50 people with mental illnesses were shot by the police across Germany. One study concluded that nearly 25 percent of fatal police encounters were related to mental illness.

Chiri said, “Having a mental health crisis is not a crime. And it’s not necessarily a public safety issue. Therefore, it is important that our team is here to respond to these nonviolent mental health calls to relieve the police of real public safety concerns. ”

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A Street Crisis Response Team takes care of people in need.

CBS news


In addition to a mental health expert like Chiri, each crisis response team will have paramedics like Richard Platt and Lesley Fong and a member like Michael Marchiselli. He’s called a peer advisor because he was there and did that. “When someone says, ‘Do you have a license or degree?’ I think the street and drug addiction were my graduation! “Marchiselli laughed.

Platt said, “There will be limits to what we can do when it comes to our personal interactions. Michael doesn’t get any of this; he’s able to use his gut instincts in ways we normally can’t.”

Jermain Reeves lived on the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Blackstone said, “You look pretty good right now.”

“Thank you,” Reeves said.

“Wasn’t it always like that lately?”

“No, actually it was the opposite.”

Earlier this year, Reeves desperately sought help from one of the road crisis teams. They found a place for him to stay. “It was a godsend and it was on time,” he said. “And you know, it was the first people who really listened to me.”

He said he would never go to the police for help: “For example, if a police show up now, you would think nothing of it. My heart would start beating fast. I would wonder how What are you here for? I’ll look around to see if there are any other black people. It’s just not a good ending situation for people who look like me. “

With police reform now a national issue, programs like the one in San Francisco are being developed across the country.

Blackstone asked Mayor Breed, “So what this program does is take away some calls that used to go to the police and take away some of the police’s duties.

“Well, I don’t like to name it,” she replied. “The issue here is that we need to think differently about policing than ever before, especially given what the data is showing us. The goal is to meet people where they are, build a relationship, have a conversation, treat you like human beings no matter what they’re going through, and have you build trust in seconds. And that can make all the difference. “


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Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor: Ben McCormick.


More from John Blackstone:


Crisis Teams Answer Calls About Mental Health In SF …

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