ORLANDO, Fla. – Flashing lights and armed officers are a common response when someone calls 911, but Orlando city officials say, for some situations, there is a better first response – mental health professionals.
“This service will allow for clinicians and individuals who have the ability to make referrals to go out, meet with someone who’s in crisis but doesn’t rise to the level of needing law enforcement to intervene, and get the services they so need,” said Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon.
The move is one of the reforms called for by social justice activists, like Orlando bishop Kelvin Cobaris.
“I think that every proactive approach to restoring better situation between law enforcement and the community is a plus,” Cobaris said.
Chief Rolon said they get more than 20,000 calls for service every month, and their research shows that for at least 3,700 of them, it would have been better having a mental health professional show up instead.
Here are the six scenarios where a mental health professional would respond to a call before – or instead of – law enforcement: attempted suicides, the non-violent mentally ill, drug violators, drunk pedestrians, a person down, or a trespasser. The yearlong pilot program is set to launch this February.
“I think this is a program that will allow for the situation to be de-escalated by not having a uniform presence there,” Chief Rolon said.
The 911 operators will be trained, and mental health counselors will have radios to contact the police if things get out of hand. Bishop Cobaris said it was a good move. “To see him responding to what the community has asked is a plus and a positive in the direction that we need to go.”