Under a new pilot program, city EMTs who are answering a 911 call regarding a mental health emergency will be accompanied by social workers, instead of police.
The Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, or “B-HEARD,” aims to reduce potentially violent encounters between police and mentally disturbed individuals.
The teams will be dispatched in situations when the call did not report violent behavior or weapons, NBC 4 reported.
The program joins others in Baltimore and Eugene, Oregon, that hope to prevent situations from spiraling into violence specifically by avoiding sending police, whose presence may set people on edge.
“You can’t use a hammer for every situation,” said FDNY Capt. Ronald Floyd, who was involved in training members of the program by stimulating situations. The social workers are trained to calm and ease the agitated person while the EMTs check their vitals and determine if a hospital visit is necessary.
Just in case, all EMTs involved have taken self-defense classes. Their pay will also be 6% higher.
The pilot will first start in Harlem, due to the neighborhood’s high number of 911 mental health calls. There were 8,703 calls made to 911 in Harlem regarding a mental health emergency in 2020.