BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A Baltimore city councilman is asking city leadership to re-examine its response to behavioral and mental health crises.
A resolution introduced by Councilman Zeke Cohen calls on the city to “re-examine every aspect of public safety.” The legislation says that all too often police officers are not equipped to respond to a situation in which a person is in crisis and adds police should work in tandem with trained clinicians and mental health professionals.
The bill reads in part:
“We seek to decriminalize mental health challenges. Too often, we have asked police officers to solve issues that they are ill equipped to handle. Police are not clinicians. Mental health issues like schizophrenia and addiction require a mental health response led by mental health professionals. Law enforcement has a role to play in responding to crises and supporting other professionals but sending police alone can escalate tense situations and result in bad outcomes for everyone.”
Cohen said it’s imperative to include mental health professionals on emergency calls in which a person is experiencing a crisis.
First and foremost, he said, the city has to look at its 911 dispatch system and how it’s currently delegating mental health and behavioral calls.
Those suffering from a mental health crisis should be treated by trained professionals and receive proper follow-up care, he said.
“We don’t ask clinicians to solve crime, so why do we ask police officers to essentially resolve mental health crises?” he asked.
The resolution comes at a time in which cities are re-thinking what public safety looks like and how agencies might evolve to better meet the needs of their communities.
“We have to do this tough work of re-imagining public safety. We have to understand that this is decades overdue,” City Council President Brandon Scott said.
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On July 1, Baltimore police officers shot and critically injured an armed man during a behavioral call on the city’s northeast side. The man’s mother-in-law, who initially made the 911 call, told police he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
“To me, any time someone who is mentally ill ends up shot four times that is a failure of us, Baltimore,” Cohen said.
At its meeting Monday, the council referred the resolution to the health committee for further discussion.