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New St. Louis City program to divert mental health calls away from 911


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    ST. LOUIS, MO (KMOV) — Over the next month, St. Louis City will roll out a new and innovative program meant to help alleviate the strain on 911 dispatchers and potentially save lives.

“At the end of the day this is about saving people’s lives so we want to make sure people are connected to the resources they need,” explained Tiffany Lacy Clark. She is the COO of Behavior Health Response (BHR), an organization that provides crisis support and mental health resources 24 hours a day.

They are the new partners with the City of St. Louis in their effort to approach public safety in a new way. The program, set to begin this month, could divert thousands of 911 calls to mental health professionals.

Right now, St. Louis City dispatch handles around 700,000 calls a year, a problem News 4 has reported on for some time.

This new effort could divert around 5,000 calls to BHR.

“It will eventually diminish those calls but I believe it will let the dispatchers know you don’t have to figure this all out. Just like a police officer on scene doesn’t have to figure it out all by themselves,” explained Wilford Pinkney, the City of St. Louis’ director of Children, Youth and Families.

Pinkney is a former New York City police officer and has worked on bringing this type of reform to the city since he started working for Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office.

He said it’s a twofold program: In addition to transferring some emergency calls to trained mental health professionals, in cases where a police officer still needs to be dispatched to a scene, they will now be accompanied by a behavioral health professionals.

They will be called co-responders and it’s an effort that’s been several years in the making, with two pilot programs that were tried in North City.

Lacy Clark says they have hired 10 people so far and are working on hiring others.

The $860,000 funding for the program was reallocated from the budget for the Medium Security Institution, otherwise known as the workhouse.

The effort to de-escalate and have someone other than a police officer respond to some scenes has been a call from activists and those in support of the Defund the Police movement. Lacy Clark says this is about making sure the people who need help are getting it.

“The goal is not to defund the police, the goal is to the fund the resources that people actually need,” said Lacy Clark.

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