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Mobile Crisis Response Teams Up and Running in Westchester

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Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced last week that Mobile Crisis Response Teams are now operating throughout the county to help deal with calls involving people suffering from mental health issues.

Westchester officially kicked off its seven Mobile Crisis Response Teams last week, an initiative that will see mental health professionals on call to assist local police departments or respond to certain crises in lieu of officers.

The teams, which are co-located with local police departments, will provide 24-hour mobile behavioral health crisis support when responding to emergencies that may involve mental health issues. Host communities include Greenburgh, Mount Kisco, New Rochelle, Ossining, Peekskill, Port Chester and Yonkers, and each will also serve neighboring communities so that every municipality in Westchester will be covered by the service.

There will be an agency that helps manage the behavioral or mental health-type calls at each host site. For example, the Mental Health Association of Westchester will be the managing agency in Mount Kisco, Family Services of Westchester will manage in Ossining and Westchester Jewish Community Services will be on hand in Peekskill.

County Executive George Latimer said the program was a key recommendation from the Police Reform Task Force that provided a series of several dozen recommendations to improve county police services. It was also a key request among some of the county’s local police forces when communities undertook their police reform efforts.

“It is a coordinated regional approach in dealing with these incidents where mental illness may be at the cutting edge of what is otherwise a police response and to see how we can integrate a mental health professional response alongside of the police response to get the best possible result and the least amount of tragedy that occurs,” Latimer said.

The announcement that the seven teams are on call was made last Thursday at Port Chester Village Hall. Michael Orth, commissioner of the county’s Department of Community Mental Health, called it a “momentous occasion” for Westchester to be able to improve responses when a call involving a behavioral or mental health situation may be involved.

Orth said that 911 dispatchers will be trained to assess risk level and determine whether a particular call may require a mental health professional who would accompany police on a call or go instead of officers. That will bring the most appropriate response depending on the circumstances, he said.

Already, an estimated 80 to 90 calls referred to the crisis hotline at St. Vincent’s Hospital have been redirected.

“This will help make our community safer for our first responders, our residents and individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis by providing the most appropriate response to keep them safe and hopefully to save lives in Westchester County,” said Orth.

Over the years incidents have occurred across the nation, including in Westchester, where if a similar service was available a tragedy could have been avoided. Terrance Raynor, deputy commissioner of the county’s Department of Public Safety, said now when a mental health-related response is warranted, an expert can arrive at the scene and look to de-escalate the situation.

“The Mobile Crisis Response Teams will ensure the safest possible outcome at the most highly-charged incidents,” Raynor said.

“Our goal, as always is for every encounter to end safely without incident and to get an individual in crisis the help they need,” he added.

Commissioner Leonard Townes of the county Department of Social Services said this is the type of service that has been needed for a long time, and police, with the support of a mental health agency behind them, “should be able to do great things in Westchester County.”

Latimer said he’s hopeful that the work the county has put in over the past two years will make this a valuable service and save lives. The key question was always how can the county deal with a problem constructively, he said.

“What we’re talking about today is a response two years in the making and it takes that long to put something together that has rooting in reality,” Latimer said, “not just a press conference and you say something.”

The Greenburgh Police Department host site will cover White Plains; the Mount Kisco site will also take in New Castle, North Castle, Somers and the state police; the Ossining Police Department site will cover Mount Pleasant, Pleasantville, Sleepy Hollow and Briarcliff Manor; and the Peekskill location will include Buchanan, Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson and Yorktown.

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