(White Plains, NY) – At his weekly Westchester County update, County Executive George Latimer discussed the County’s implementation of a program aimed at assisting those in mental health crisis during their time of greatest need. Westchester County is embarking on a new first step in diverting people with serious mental health and co-occurring disorder needs from the criminal justice system into behavioral health services.

Latimer said: “Our County’s Police Reform Taskforce evidenced a need to have in place people who are trained in mental health crisis actions and behaviors to be able to respond to certain types of incidents that arise to provide an appropriate level of response. We want to ensure that those who receive an emergency type call know how to ask the right questions and know the nature of what they are facing in order to dispatch the appropriate personnel.”

View full press briefing.

“911 Diversion” seeks to identify and divert 911 callers with serious needs as well as those in crisis who pose no danger to others to appropriate crisis services. The program also works to ensure that when a law enforcement or medical response is needed, proper behavioral crisis response support is available and present.

Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH) Commissioner Michael Orth said: “Through the collaborative efforts led by County Executive Latimer, our Community Mental Health, Emergency Services and Public Safety Departments have created a pathway for emergency dispatchers to identify and quickly resolve 911 calls from people in imminent crisis. This will allow those who are the first point of contact to better assist people in emotional distress.”

The benefits of 911 Diversion accrue to dispatchers, law enforcement and individuals in need alike.

For dispatchers, this program adds a fourth option for dispatch; police; fire; medical and now behavioral health, gives training to identify and address callers in crisis or in need of behavioral health assistance, creates a single crisis line phone number to direct callers in need, improving service and reducing time spent per call for the dispatchers and allows for an easily usable assist when handling distressed callers.

Westchester County DCMH Deputy Commissioner Joseph Glazer said: “People know to call 911 in an emergency. And when that happens, it is imperative that 911 dispatchers are trained and prepared to meet their needs. By adding the option of connecting with the behavioral health system, we are giving dispatchers the tools they need to create a more effective and efficient response at the first point of contact.”

For law enforcement, the program gives a clearer understanding of the situation on a call, gives the option of co-dispatched behavioral response when needed, allows for reduced calls to respond to distressed individuals (it is estimated that at least 50% of calls to crisis lines are addressed without mobilizing anyone and lastly a reduced likelihood of unnecessarily volatile situations and confrontations.

Lt. Michael Hatch (ret), Johnson City Police Department and trainer for Westchester’s 911 Diversion program said: “Over the past few years, 911 Diversion has become an integral part of many crisis response systems. I am honored to be working with Westchester County to develop its 911 caller diversion model. In a county with as many services available as Westchester, it is a major step in helping people and improving the emergency response system.  A call for someone experiencing mental health crisis should be met with a mental health response.”

For a distressed caller the program gives quicker access to necessary services, a fuller array of skills and services provided when facing a crisis or behavioral emergency, earlier and effective diversion from contact with the criminal justice system, and a response more compassionately tailored to their needs.

Implementing 911 Diversion is a crucial first step in implementing the safest and most effective system for everyone involved in the interactions that occur between law enforcement and the vulnerable people with serious needs in our communities.