Mental health activists demand non-police responses to 911 calls for mental help

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Many organizations and mental health activists gathered in Marble Hill on Martin Luther King Day to demand an option for non-police response to 911 calls for mental help.

Groups joined at Stephen's United Methodist Church for a talk on the concerns. Attendees say that they are not happy with how they feel the NYPD interacts with people who have mental health issues, particularly with regard to the emergency system that the city has in place.

They say if someone is going through a psychiatric crisis, the 911 dispatcher almost always sends police officers.

The activists claim they've learned from experience that the police response tends to range from being an inappropriate and inadequate to being hazardous to the person who needs help and their loved ones present at the time.

They add that this leads to harm, unnecessary incarceration, or sometimes even death.

"This is a group of people who are coming together to call for a different response and to bring pressure on the city's policymakers to put in place a different response, where instead of the 911 dispatcher sending the cops, the dispatcher has enough information about mental health professionals and mediation specialists across the city, so they send mental health professionals instead,” says Bob Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.

Meanwhile, the NYPD says it works in tandem with its community partners to offer quick and effective aid to those with emotional difficulties, saying in a statement:

"In today's NYPD, every officer receives elemental training in the fundamentals of responding to calls for individuals in crisis, and a majority of our officers have been certified in our specialized crisis intervention team training. Our officers are now better trained and equipped than ever before to identify persons experiencing mental health issues and to effectively communicate with them."

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