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New York City Mayor Eric Adams gave the city’s first responders, including his police force, a controversial new task this week – enforcing a state law that allows them to unwittingly engage people in mental health crisis.
From CNN’s report by Mark Morales:
Adams said it was a myth that first responders can only unwittingly commit those who have shown an “overt act” that they might be suicidal, violent or pose a danger to others. Instead, he said the law allows first responders to involuntarily engage those who cannot meet their own “basic human needs” – a lower bar.
The police department is still formulating a plan and Adams, a former cop, said officers will benefit from additional training and real-time support from mental health professionals.
The move follows a spate of violence in New York and increasingly visible homeless encampments in New York and cities across the country.
Adams conceived of politics as a way to help people in need.
“It’s not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past it,” he said.
Homeless advocates oppose it. “The city really needs to address this more from a health and housing perspective, rather than focusing on involuntary dismissals and policing,” Jacquelyn Simone of the Coalition for the Homeless told CNN’s Brynn Gingras for her report airing this week on “AC360°.”
Mental health professionals wonder. “We’re defaulting to an extreme that takes away basic human rights,” Matt Kudish, CEO of the New York chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said in a statement after Adams’ announcement.
Kudish said New York should do more to help people before they need intervention: “The City has the authority to provide on-site treatment, as well as treatment in homeless shelters or supported housing, but chose not to.
Police fear this will put them in a precarious position. “As soon as they want to resist, now where is it the accountability form – on the uniformed officer,” retired NYPD Detective Andrew Bershad told Gingras.
I spoke to Ryan McBain, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, who studies how government policies can reach vulnerable populations, including those living at the same time mental illness and housing insecurity.
McBain argued that Adams’ decision was “well-intentioned but misguided”, firstly because police interactions with people in the throes of serious mental health issues are “escalation fuel”.
“It’s something like 1 in 4 people who are shot by a police officer are people with significant mental health issues,” McBain said. When I sought to confirm that 25% figure, I found this in a 2015 Washington Post survey.
“If you stop and think about it, that makes sense, right? People who are disoriented or have atypical thoughts are often unable to comply in conjunction with a police officer,” he said. “And given that the police carry guns, you have kind of a recipe for poor results.”
There is evidence, he said, that deploying trained mental health professionals alongside police would be more effective. In New York, first responders will receive additional training and have access to a hotline with mental health professionals.
Another problem is more systemic and has to do with how the United States deals with chronic and serious mental illness, from a system of large institutional asylums that were closed in the 1960s and 1970s to a flawed system focused on private insurance and the community. mental health centers.
Currently, there are not enough beds for psychiatric patients.
“We don’t need giant asylums where the conditions are inappropriate, but we need bigger facilities with more beds that can provide the kind of care that patients really need when they have health problems. more severe mental health,” McBain said.
More permanent supportive housing is needed for people living at the same time mental health issues and homelessness. But that kind of solution — the public offering housing alternatives to people who can’t support themselves — can be costly and politically difficult.
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It’s a sentiment shared by Dennis Culhane, professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania, who appeared on “AC360°” on Thursday. “That’s the fundamental problem here,” Culhane said. “You can’t actively and effectively treat people without having them in a place where they can take care of themselves.”
McBain said that in the US healthcare system, which relies on insurance paying for services, mental health is not treated the same as physical health.
“In the best of all possible worlds, you would have a continuum of care to meet people’s mental health needs,” he said.
“And that continuum would start with high-quality outpatient services that private insurers pay for at par with physical health conditions. … I think until you see the system trying to address these issues holistically, these issues are going to continue to persist,” he said, arguing, “Mayor Adams is proposing to put a band aid on something. thing for which you really need sutures.
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