NYLPI Leads Advocates in Critique of NYC’s Proposed Pilot of Mental Health Teams to Respond to 911 Calls

November 18, 2020

Disability Justice, Health Justice, Media Coverage, News, Policing and Mental Health Crises

A man sits on a dark sidewalk with his hands over his eyes

Director of Disability Justice Ruth Lowenkron was quoted in a Smart Cities Dive article on New York City’s proposed pilot program to send mental and physical health professionals as the “default response” to 911 mental health-related emergency calls. Ruth, echoing the concerns of Correct Crisis Intervention Today – NYC and other advocates, observed the shortcomings of the program, including the lack of peers (people with lived mental health experiences) as responders to those 911 calls, as well as the continued reliance on NYPD 911 dispatchers rather than mental health community groups.

Smart Cities Dive: NYC to pilot mental health teams as ‘default response’ to related 911 calls

By: Cailin Crowe
November 17, 2020

New York’s pilot is the city’s latest move to address demands for police reform following the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent demonstrations against systemic racism this year. The pilot’s announcement comes in the wake of the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia, a Black man who was shot and killed while having a mental health crisis.

While the pilot is a strong effort, it is not enough, said Ruth Lowenkron, director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. She expressed concern that the pilot does not include peers, or people with lived mental health experiences, as responders to those 911 calls.

There is also a reluctance among the community to call 911 in the first place, she said. It is problematic that the pilot is not run by community groups, and instead uses NYPD 911 dispatchers to connect residents with the help they need, according to Lowenkron. Ultimately, it’s the police calling the shots about where the calls go, she said.

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