Tragic experience has made clear that police officers are generally not the best responders to help people experiencing a behavioral health emergency. Such crises are generally not criminal events and we need a different approach to deal with them.
A recent Sun editorial provided a good summary of some local efforts to move in that direction (”Having a mental illness is not a crime and shouldn’t be treated as one,” April 19). But it’s important to note that broader, systemic improvements to our behavioral health crisis response system are coming to much of the Baltimore region.
This year saw the launch of the Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis System (GBRICS) Partnership. This initiative invests $45 million over five years to transform behavioral health crisis response services in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Howard County. It will create one regional hotline supported by a comprehensive call center that will quickly help callers access the support they need and coordinate dispatch of mobile crisis teams (non-law enforcement) to assist people who need immediate help. Instead of having armed police show up to help with a crisis, a mental health clinician will respond and provide therapeutic support on the spot.
It will also increase the number of mobile crisis teams across the region and improve access to services at community-based providers. These combined efforts will reduce police interaction and overreliance on emergency departments.
GBRICS has the potential to transform our crisis response system to be more responsive to the needs and wants of our community. We should embrace the role that our crisis response system plays and elevate it to match our fire, emergency medical and police response systems because it reduces harm to people and saves lives.
Crista Taylor, Baltimore
The writer is president and CEO of Behavioral Health System Baltimore.
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