Baltimore forum seeks public input on plan to reduce police interaction with those in mental health crises

Baltimore forum seeks public input on plan to reduce police interaction with those in mental health crises
·3 min read

Baltimore police and city officials will host an online forum Tuesday seeking public feedback on a plan to increase emergency counseling resources to reduce the number of interactions people experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis have with police.

Starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, officials from the police department, Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Mayor Brandon Scott’s office will host a meeting to discuss the draft of the “Baltimore Public Behavioral Health Gap Analysis Implementation Plan.

The 52-page plan published last month comes after a December 2019 city analysis stated that “community-based, mobile crisis response teams that are not led by the police should be greatly expanded” and that the city needs to make residents more aware of alternatives to calling 911 for various health crises.

Baltimore launched its 911 Diversion Pilot in June, with the intent of diverting people with suicidal ideation who don’t have weapons or immediate plans to act on those thoughts to appropriate behavioral health resources instead of responding with police.

The draft plan calls for the city to “ensure that Mobile Crisis teams will be available 24/7 and have capacity to provide face-to-face contact with individuals in needs of their services.” It also would establish a quality assurance team tasked with evaluating the city’s capabilities and investigating behavioral health crises “that result in serious negative outcomes for the individual or others.”

In addition to addressing areas of concern raised in the 2019 report, the city also is developing the plan to comply with the federal consent decree it entered into in 2017 after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found a pattern on unconstitutional policing. As part of the consent decree, the city agreed to identify gaps in its behavioral health services system and propose solutions.

The department has been criticized in the past for the way it has handled instances involving behavioral health crises where people called 911 for help.

In July 2020, Behavioral Health System Baltimore called the police shooting of a man who pulled a firearm while undergoing a behavioral health crisis “a total failure” of the city’s system of mental health response. The man, Ricky Walker Jr., was experiencing a crisis late at night and the department’s internal crisis response team was not on duty when the 911 call went out, the mental health agency said.

The city’s other crisis response team, a 24-hour, 7-days a week team operated by the nonprofit Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., also was not called to the scene.

And in August, family members of Marcus Martin said the department unnecessarily resorted to lethal force during an hours-long standoff after they called 911 and told officers that the 40-year-old was experiencing a behavioral health crisis and had firearms in the house.

Footage released by the department showed that police deployed a robot to aid in negotiating with Martin, and that Martin shot out of the front door of his home at the robot, prompting a sniper positioned across the street to fatally shoot him.

Members of his family wrote on a GoFundMe page that Martin “lost his life due to an ongoing mental illness which resulted in the police using excessive force.”

Those who would like to participate in the city’s forum can register here.

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