Crisis intervention organization, Howard Co. Police teaming up to improve response to mental health calls

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. 

County leaders say some callers could soon be connected with mental health professionals instead of police. They say it could get people facing mental health challenges the best care and support they need.

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

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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. 

"Crisis intervention requires swift and professional attention in order to avoid escalation," said Mariana Izraelson, the Executive Director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center 

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Last year, Howard County dispatchers received almost 1,800 calls for a behavioral or mental health issue. Officials say 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," Izraelson said. 

The partnership begins on July 1.