Mobile Crisis Response Teams are Addressing Mental Health Needs for Public Safety

After a year in service, Mobile Crisis Response Teams have become a critical component supplementing the police response to mental health emergencies.

Mental health and public safety

Following demands for police reform across the nation as a response to tragedies like the killing of George Floyd, Westchester County set out to “reimagine” its own law enforcement procedures. To do this, the government commissioned a comprehensive report and launched an initiative called, “Project Alliance.” In a press conference on September 30th, 2021, County Executive George Latimer explained this plan. Flanked by representatives from various departments, Latimer stressed the need to address the mental health crisis.

This is a bold step, and an innovative approach, to better address behavioral health emergencies when they develop. Project Alliance will make this County safer by better addressing the root issue.

George Latimer – Westchester County Executive

A fundamental prong of “Project Alliance” is the deployment of Mobile Crisis Response Teams, or MCRT’s. Eight different MCRT’s were planned throughout the county being described as, “staff who have substantial training and experience in addressing mental health and […] support law enforcement in addressing mental health crisis by rapid engagement, assessment of needs, and providing short-term support and linkage to necessary services.” Essentially, the police dispatch a MCRT to assist them in non-violent cases where the subject needs mental health intervention-not solely a cop with a gun.

In May of 2022, the County announced five MCRT vendors across the eight jurisdictions. These vendors receive funding and oversight from the County’s Department of Community Mental Health. The winning bid for the City of Yonkers went to the Poughkeepsie-based, People USA. Per their own description, “People USA is a peer-run mental health non-profit that creates, provides, and promotes its own, innovative crisis response and wellness services.”

The Yonkers Police Department is pleased to have partnered with the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health to provide this much-needed resource to the City of Yonkers.

Det. Sgt. Frank DiDomizio – YPD Public Information Officer

Support in Yonkers

While announced in May, the program didn’t launch until August at just one of the four Yonkers’ Police precincts. Now a year later, they fully operate across the entirety of the city. So, wherever a YPD officer believes a situation can be aided by a MCRT, they are called-in to assist 24/7. Per the YPD, “Once scene safety is established by our responding Officers, sometimes there is more that can be done in terms of assistance for the individual involved.” And now, that assistance is happening up to 45 times per month per People USA’s reporting.

One such example of this assistance happened in August. Officers responded to a report of a suspicious male checking car door handles. They found an elderly disoriented man in the middle of the road, unable to communicate. After a short evaluation at a local hospital, the MCRT was called to assist. Through their service, they discovered that he wandered away from his Bronx assisted living facility. After being reported missing for days, the MCRT safely returned the man home. Thus, the MCRT’s extended time with him proved crucial in resolving his situation effectively.

Likewise, with a goal of providing treatment instead of incarceration, MCRT members often keep in-touch with those in their care. These face-to-face check-ins can happen almost daily for up to 14-days after first-contact. This ensures that people are getting the complete care they need. It’s this comprehensive commitment to people that CEO Steve Miccio says is the key to long-term positive outcomes for individuals and their community.

It has been a rewarding experience […] providing compassionate and immediate response to community members experiencing a crisis. We have seen the successes of our engagement and follow-up with individuals in helping to mitigate an ongoing cycle of crisis through this co-response model.

Tammy Robson, LCSW, NYCPS-P, Assistant Executive Director of Crisis Services

A trained team

Delivering this committed response is a uniquely competent staff. Of the 12 current members on the 24/7/365 team, all passed New York State certification. Four of these team members even being fully-licensed social workers. And to address people with substance abuse issues, many are Credentialed Alcohol Substance Abuse Counselors.

Moreover, most of the staff are people with lived experience in this space. That could mean they have recovered from addiction and/or are formerly incarcerated. Having this lived experience allows these caregivers to truly understand and administer aid to those in need. People USA Program Coordinator Jeremy Reuling describes this as being “able to utilize the wisdom of personal lived experience, as well as clinical knowledge, to help the individuals we serve to find their way through the crisis and engage with the services and supports that meet their unique needs.”

Future of the program

With about 225 area residents helped by the Mobile Crisis Response Team so far, the future of this program looks bright. By Steve Miccio’s estimate, the 45 monthly requests the team is now receiving should double over the next year. This is within the the current capacity of the MCRT to handle about a hundred calls per month. Also, with the growing shift to Medicaid funding, they hope to zero out the cost to the County budget.

And while the police say that they “are often the first resource people call in times of crisis,” they understand that sometimes additional care must occur. And its the productive relationship with this new service which has them acknowledge that, “together, we are making a difference.”

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