Baltimore announces pilot program to divert certain 911 calls from police to mental health experts
BALTIMORE, MD (WEAA) — On Friday, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced a pilot program that would divert some 911 calls to mental health professionals and away from police.
"This 911 Diversion Pilot program is an innovative step in the right direction”, Mayor Scott announced.
The program, run by Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., aims to get the appropriate responses and resources for callers whenever they dial 911.
“Approximately 13,000 calls come into our 9-1-1 system each year for people in crisis. 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,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “The citywide pilot my administration will launch this summer will allow our police officers to spend more time focusing on violence. I look forward to deepening this work and growing our public health diversion options over time, in partnership with community-based organizations.”
Mayor Scott says the program isn’t about defunding police but rather acknowledging that police and fire departments need help responding to calls they aren’t adequately trained for.
“The Baltimore police department is not comprised of substance abuse, mental health or trauma counselors and neither is our fire department”, Scott said.
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen joined the Mayor for the announcement.
“To improve public safety, we must ensure those experiencing behavioral health and substance use crisis situations get the help they need. Not every emergency call requires a police response. Mayor Scott’s new pilot program will ensure Baltimore residents are connected with the appropriate resources in emergency and non-emergency situations — and will allow our police to focus their efforts where they’re actually needed,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. “I’m proud to partner with the Mayor on this front, as I work in Congress to increase funding for state and local governments across the country to create programs just like this, and I look forward to reintroducing my legislation with Representative Karen Bass on this issue soon. I’m glad to see Baltimore leading the way as an example for cities around the nation.”
Senator Van Hollen also said, “Too often, what we find is that police responses to nonviolent situations and encounters have resulted in unnecessary escalations and unjust deaths".
The program is set to start in June 2021.
Residents will be able to access the program by simply calling 911. Eligible calls will be connected to a trained mental health clinician at the Here2Help line, rather than BPD or EMS. Residents can access the free, confidential Here2Help line 24-hours a day at 410-433-5175. pic.twitter.com/2S0z1UEfbN— Brandon M. Scott (@MayorBMScott) May 7, 2021