DC launches pilot program shifting mental health calls away from police dispatch

The District is starting up a pilot program to move mental health emergency calls away from police dispatch, and toward mental health crisis response.

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Mayor Muriel Bowser says the pilot is an effort to shift resources to match the needs of the person in crisis.

"This program builds on all our efforts to make sure we are providing residents the right care at the right time. The sooner we can identify what a person needs - whether that is an ambulance, a doctor’s appointment, or in this case, a visit from a behavioral health expert, the sooner we can help them. That’s what this is about: making sure we get Washingtonians the help they need when they call us," Bowser said.

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In advance of the pilot program’s launch, officials say 911 operators will receive special training to discern what response will be appropriate for each situation.

According to D.C. officials, the pilot matches similar efforts in other cities across the country.

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They say after the pilot has run its course, the Office of Unified Communications and the Department of Behavioral Health will analyze the results and determine what modifications to the program might be appropriate.