(Baltimore City Police/law.baltimorecity.gov)

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Nearing six months on, city administration officials and police have lauded Baltimore’s 911 diversion pilot program as a success.

The program diverts calls from “residents experiencing behavioral health and substance use crises” — like suicidal, psychiatric or abnormal behavior — to properly trained personnel rather than traditional police, according to a press release from Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.

The city has two different groups that can respond to behavioral health crises when calls come in to emergency services: The Crisis Response Team, which receives a greater education in crisis management and has a clinical social worker as a co-responder, and a Crisis Intervention Team, who are solely officers who have received 40 hours of specialized training.

The Baltimore Police Department’s Crisis Response Team, which includes police and a social worker, as of Nov. 12 had been dispatched 313 times since its implementation over the summer, according to data provided by Detective Vernon Davis of the Baltimore Police Department.

The team acts as a secondary response to incidents when first responders feel the situation requires a more specialized approach, unless the 911 operator directly dispatches the Crisis Response Team, according to Davis.

The five-member team includes three officers, one sergeant, and a licensed clinical social worker, according to Davis.

This team is available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, according to an email from Lindsey Eldridge, the Baltimore Police Department’s director of public affairs and community outreach.

The social worker, from Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. is a co-responder with police, according to Eldridge.

Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. is a private, nonprofit organization that responds to behavioral crises using community-based resources, and operates a local crisis hotline, according to their website.

Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.

While there are five members of the crisis response team, usually an officer and a social worker are dispatched to a scene, according to Davis.

The program began in response to a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, and a 2019 study that found Baltimore police at times respond to behavioral health emergencies that someone with more tailored training could handle better.

The study recommended that all police officers needed crisis intervention training to better respond to distressed individuals, and the department planned in May to implement this for at least 30% of its officers, according to Eldridge.

New police recruits get three days of specialized training, and 911 dispatch center staff also receive training in how to handle and when to divert these calls to a hotline where personnel are trained to respond, according to Eldridge.

The program was introduced in May and the Crisis Response Team was first dispatched on June 16, according to Alexandra Smith, policy adviser to Scott.

During behavioral response training, officers learn about symptoms of mental illness and management skills to better respond to a situation, according to Davis.

Crisis Response Team members receive a more intense version of the program that is tailored for their position, according to Laurie Burdock, a training instructor for Baltimore Police Department and manager at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Maj. Derek Loeffler will measure the success of the program through the number of calls that can be diverted from police, he said to Capital News Service.

“Officers recognize the need for other organizations and agencies that have an expertise in that area and can help people when they make the call. There is generally no pushback,” Loeffler said.

The diversion of behavioral health 911 calls was an immediate priority for the Scott administration, according to Smith.

Baltimore’s mayor announced the program in May as a means of enabling police to pursue more violent crimes, according to the press release.

A dashboard will display the statistical progress of the pilot program to the public sometime at the end of the year, Smith said in an interview with Capital News Service.

“We don’t plan to have an end date for the pilot program; we plan to have it as a continuous pilot to expand,” Smith said.

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