NYAPRS Note: This most recent article on Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams (CCIT) in the Legislative Gazette demonstrates the far-reaching impact of advocacy to improve the mental health response of the NYPD. Carla Rabinowitz—Community Access Organizer and President-Elect of NYAPRS—is quoted below, indicating that this proposal is ultimately about supporting police and building healthier, safer communities.
NYPD asked to use crisis teams for emotional distress calls
Sen. Parker is drafting a bill to assess how police deal with emotionally disturbed persons
By Kelly Fay, October 21, 2013
Health providers and public officials are urging the New York City Council to pass a resolution to create Crisis Intervention Teams that would collaborate with the New York City Police Department to increase effectiveness when responding to emotional distress calls. Councilmember Albert Vann is currently drafting the resolution which has the support of a prominent Democrat in the state Senate.
The NYPD receives 100,000 calls a year related to an "emotionally disturbed person." According to the Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams in New York City — a coalition of health providers and concerned citizens leading the campaign — these calls often result in unwarranted arrest, emotional and physical abuse and even death. Creation of Crisis Intervention Teams would give police specialized training and provide mental health professionals to deal with emotional distress calls.
Supporters gathered late last month outside City Hall in New York City to show support for the endeavor and hear support from advocacy groups, city council members and individuals who have been affected by unfortunate results of emotional distress calls.
Carla Rabinowitz is the community organizer for Community Access, a member of the coalition that helps people with psychiatric disabilities transition to independent living.
"Our 35 member coalition is very supportive of the police," Rabinowitz said. "A Crisis Intervention Team is a form of community building between police and community members. The teams have worked in so many cities and it even helps police because everyone's injuries are reduced."
The pilot program for Crisis Intervention Teams began in 1988 in Memphis, Tenn. The police department worked with mental health care providers to come up with a solution to the issues encountered when dealing with an emotional distress call. Now, over 2,700 localities throughout the country have established Crisis Intervention Teams. In New York State, Nassau, Monroe and Westchester counties have implemented the program.
The NYPD says officers are trained extensively to be able to recognize and respond to an emotionally disturbed person.
Responding to questions for this report, the NYPD issued a statement saying, "That training continues throughout their careers and includes workshops taught by experts in the field of psychiatry." The department has also indicated because they have 23 million interactions with the public a year, 100,000 is not a significant enough number of calls to warrant a new program. Additionally, the department says members of the Emergency Service Unit officers and Hostage Negotiation Team receive intensive training on dealing with "individuals suffering from any potential mental health issues."
However, Rabinowitz says the training offered by the NYPD is not intensive enough.
"Officers need comprehensive training where they can come to the community and meet with mental health recipients and professionals," she said. "Police generally approach a situation with a command and control response; we need to give officers tools of de-escalation."
Rabinowitz added that departments would likely save money from the programs because a mental health recipient who is wrongly injured may have to spend time in a hospital or file a lawsuit, both of which can be extremely costly.
Wendy Brennan, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City — a member of Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams—says in order for the program to work, all the key stakeholders must be involved.
"The NYPD is the most critical stakeholder," Brennan said. "They report to the mayor, so the mayor would have to support this in order for the programs to work. The coalition doesn't believe the current administration would be interested in exploring implementation of this program, hopefully the next mayor of New York City will understand that this is a wise decision for the department, for individuals with emotional distress, their families and the community."
Brennan cited an incident in Times Square on Sept. 15 when two bystanders were shot when NYPD opened fire on an unarmed, emotionally distressed man. She says situations like this escalate quickly because police may inadvertently heighten and exacerbate the distress of the person involved.
According to the NYPD, the force is on pace to have the most restrained year in history as far as police involved shootings, with a total of 56 in 2013 as of September 15 as compared to 83 in 2012.
Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, has given his support to the creation of crisis intervention teams, saying police officers are not currently provided with the right training and protocol to properly respond to mental health incidents. Parker stressed the importance of moving away from treating incidents as if a crime is being committed.
He also called on the governor, mayor and fellow senate members to support a bill he will submit for the upcoming session.
"My bill creates a pilot program in New York City that brings together all the stakeholders including hospitals, police officers and community groups to assess the need and provide an action plan to execute the best protocols in these situations," Parker said.
Parker, Brennan and Rabinowitz say the movement for the creation of crisis intervention teams is not anti-police in any way. Instead, it would give them another set of tools to better protect their community as well as themselves.
"Police deal with an enormous amount of stress," Brennan said. "Their job is very difficult and they do the best they can. This will be a great set of tools for the officers; research has shown crisis intervention teams significantly reduce officer injury and death."