Jersey City plan: Mental health professionals will respond to 9-1-1 calls involving behavior issues

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Jersey City has taken the first step by creating a separate crisis response for 9-1-1 calls involving behavioral issues – a plan that calls for trained mental health professionals instead of police officers .

City Council voted 8-0 on Wednesday to approve a resolution ordering the city to accept bids from a vendor to operate a “community crisis response center” for non-hazardous incidents not related to crime, which which was immediately hailed by a prominent activist in the city.

“It’s good to see this administration listening to the voices of the people who live in these communities,” said Pamela Johnson, executive director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement.

According to the resolution, a “separate portion” of calls to the police department involve behavioral health issues. In the resolution, the city acknowledges that “trained mental health, social service, and/or emergency medical service professionals may be best equipped to assist,” as these calls often do not involve a threat to the public security.

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said the city’s goal is to better respond to mental health-related 9-1-1 calls and provide follow-up services and resources.

“Mayor Fulop has been one of New Jersey’s most vocal and effective leaders for meaningful public safety reform,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “As part of Jersey City’s multipronged efforts to combat de-escalation and improve police/community relations, the city has worked to implement community-driven structural changes to establish a community response to the seizures for calls related to behavioral health.”

The city’s decision echoes calls from the “defund the police” movement that erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020.

Many members of the Jersey City movement have called for fewer police officers in the city and for mental health professionals instead of police officers to respond to calls about mental health issues and domestic violence. Johnson and fellow activists led one of many protests held in Jersey City following Floyd’s death.

“Public safety doesn’t exist without the public, which is why we call it community public safety,” Johnson said. “It’s a step in the right direction that should be followed by other steps to produce real results. The police are part of the solution, but prevention begins long before that 9-1-1 call. »

The supplier will be supervised by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, cities like New York and Los Angeles began bringing in mental health professionals to respond to 9-1-1 behavioral health calls to address police brutality and the systematic racism.

According to New York officials, in the first month of its B-Heard program, people were more open to being assisted and the number of people taken to hospital for additional care was reduced.

Jersey City is looking to establish a similar service to deal with domestic violence issues. A resolution to seek out “domestic violence group hosts” was on the agenda Wednesday and withdrawn, but Wallace-Scalcione said it would be back on the agenda “in the near future.”

“The City recognizes that domestic violence imposes physical, emotional, health and economic burdens on Jersey City households, and has significant short-term and long-term costs, including medical and mental health care, to the justice system. criminal justice, lost productivity and development. impacts on children,” the resolution reads.

Wallace-Scalcione said the resolution was withdrawn due to a clerical error.

“In the meantime, we will continue to expand services around domestic violence as we have done over the past two years in a significant way,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “When it comes to police improvements and reforms, (Police) Superintendent (Tawana) Moody has always expressed her priorities as Police Superintendent to expand police training as a whole, which we are doing, to achieve our main goal of building trust between the community and the police.

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