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Public Input Sought for Alternatives to Police in Mental Health Response
City residents are invited to give their thoughts on alternatives to sending only police officers to 911 calls related to mental health issues during a public input session Thursday, April 7. The session will be held at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chamber, 101 N. Main St., Winston-Salem and is being co-hosted by WSSU’s Justice Studies program.
The public input session is part of a study considering if and how Winston-Salem should adopt a new protocol for responding to 911 calls relating to mental health crises.
Since the fall of 2020 the city has been collaborating with RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, to analyze 911 call data and develop recommendations for improving responses by law enforcement and other first responder agencies to mental health calls for service.
Advocates say that sending police officers to mental health calls can escalate a situation because those experiencing a mental health crisis may not be able to comply with police officers due to their mental state. A different way of responding, they say, would save money and reduce instances of citation, arrest, use of force and incarceration. At least 11 cities in the United States have implemented alternative protocols for responding to mental health calls for service. Most cities use co-response teams that pair police officers with mental health professionals.
In North Carolina, Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte have implemented the co-response model. The RTI study is aimed at determining the need for an alternative response in Winston-Salem and what model would best meet the city’s need. Should the City Council decide to pursue a new response protocol, the city would first conduct a pilot project to assess the new approach.