HOWARD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — Police are often the first to respond to 911 calls for mental health crises but soon in Howard County, another group of professionals will also be handling some of those situations.

“In some situations in which safety is not an issue, these incidences can be best handled by counselors without requiring a police response,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

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County officials announced on Thursday that they’re beginning a new program called Communications Initiated Referral To Crisis. It’s a partnership between Howard County Police and the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center to defer non-emergency mental health 911 calls to counselors.

“When a person is in crisis, police involvement can often exacerbate mental health symptoms and increase the likelihood of an adverse outcome,” said Denise Giuliano, Executive Director, Nami-Howard County.

The goal is to get more people an immediate connection to mental health services as long as they don’t pose a threat to themselves or someone else.

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“Crisis intervention requires swift and professional attention in order to avoid escalation,” said Marina Izraelson, Executive Director of Grassroots.

Last year, Howard County dispatchers received almost 1800 calls for behavioral or mental health issues. Officials said many of them could be better served by counseling and other services which county residents may now get more quickly with this new program.

“It really is an existing collaboration and increases access to mental health services in our community,” said Izraelson.

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The partnership begins on July 1.

Stetson Miller