All Things Considered

Less than a week in, Minneapolis crisis response team has responded to 'quite a few' calls

Social worker Amber Ruth and officer Lori Goulet consult a person.
Social worker Amber Ruth and St. Paul police officer Lori Goulet consult a person in crisis in the person's house in St. Paul in 2018. In neighboring Minneapolis, a pilot program has launched where unarmed mental health professionals respond to nonviolent emergency calls related to behavioral health.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

A public safety reform that took shape following the murder of George Floyd officially got underway this week.

On Monday, Minneapolis launched its crisis intervention pilot program that deploys unarmed mental health professionals to behavioral and mental health emergencies.

The city has diverted some police funding to Canopy Roots Mobile Crisis to staff and manage the teams. The $6 million contract is for two years.

Program Manager Candace Hanson joined host Tom Crann Wednesday. You can hear their conversation using the audio player above. You can read a transcript of it below.

Since Monday, has your team responded to any calls?

Yes, we've responded to quite a few calls in the last couple of days.

What kinds of calls and how did they go?

There's a wide variety of different types of calls we've taken. So the best way I can generalize them is — they've all been related to mental health or behavioral health. They've involved folks who need to be connected to services, but also sometimes people who just need someone to listen to or connect with them.

What scenarios is your team prepared to handle?

That's something that we're still finding out.

We have a pretty narrow mandate right now, which is calls that are related to mental health or behavioral health that are not violent, and there are no weapons present. And as we respond to calls and we see what's out there, that may expand or change.

A lot of people may worry that your teams could be sent to a call that actually does turn out to be violent or involve a weapon. What will you do to handle that, or how have you handled it if it's come up?

First of all, I appreciate people's concern about about our safety. But one thing we know is that instances like this are extremely rare. We've learned that from other programs that exist around the country that are similar.

We also have developed with our team things that are baked into the process to make sure dispatch checks on us and our team is checking in with them. And we do have radios, policy and procedure where we have trained our responders to be able to understand when situations are not going so well and take measures to protect themselves.

And also we have not had anything come up just yet.

There was this recent Pew Charitable Trust study that found that many 911 call centers lack resources or training to actually handle mental health calls and deploy the right resources at that level. So how are you working with the call center in Minneapolis to make sure this is successful?

During the development of this program, it was not only developing the program, but also developing 911 dispatchers’ ability to handle the calls, too. That's obviously a work in progress.

How has that gone this week?

I would say as well as expected. We've been in very, very close communication. We've gotten a lot of really good feedback and questions from 911. And my team has had a lot of questions. There's obviously kinks still work out. But it's been really good communication.

So how long will this pilot program go on, and how will you actually know that it's successful and should be extended?

Right now it's two years. We'll be looking at the demand, as well as, [whether we are] able to resolve the calls that were going on. Are we able to resolve them without the police having to come out afterwards or to come out for backup?

Also, it would be based on the direct feedback from the community. We're still working on the mechanisms for getting that feedback, but that will be a big factor as well.

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