The proposed budget for Phoenix is ​​$ 15 million to improve 911 mental health response

(Pixabay photo)

PHOENIX – The City of Phoenix is ​​working on expanding a program to dispatch mental health specialists to replace police officers to make calls to 911 related to mental and behavioral health issues.

“Our cops have said that people call 911 and ask for the police because they don’t know who else to call – this program is the answer to that problem,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told KTAR on Wednesday News 92.3 FM.

During a political session of the city council on Tuesday, the city’s litigation budget included a major overhaul of how it handles interactions between first responders and those in a mental or behavioral health crisis.

The proposed budget includes an investment of $ 15 million to improve services in the already established Community Advocacy Program.

The program has existed within the fire department for years, but was not adequately funded for this type of program and was mostly staffed with volunteers.

As a result, many emergency calls made by people experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis have often been handled by the police.

“We want to make sure we have the right answer to that, and we are suggesting a significant investment so that social workers and their partners go to the community to respond to 911 calls and try to really improve results,” said Gallego.

Once the final budget is approved, the community advocacy program will continue to be run by the Phoenix Fire Department, but primary responsibility for mental health response will be assumed by the Phoenix Police Department.

When it is fully operational, it will instead consist of 19 mobile crisis response units.

Ten units are said to be professionally staffed with civil servants from Phoenix and provide crisis response, connection to care and other social services.

The other nine units will form a public-private partnership with a behavioral health provider to ensure that those suffering from mental and behavioral health conditions receive ongoing case management and counseling services.

“This is huge for us,” said Phoenix Fire Cpt. Rob McDade told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We respond to any medical emergency, but sometimes when we are on the ground we find that these people we serve need this next level mental health help, and those people who are being put into the system , provide that help – this much needed help to those we serve, ”added McDade.

The City of Phoenix has an open budget process and invites residents to participate. They’ll be holding a series of budget hearings in April that people can attend online, email, or call-in and share their priorities.

Starting in May, the city will have a number of votes to approve the budget.

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