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Report by Cleveland-based think tank calls for social workers to deal with mental health emergencies instead of police

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 7:10 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Imagine calling 911 and having the option to have police or a mental health professional respond to the call.

“Really think about how do we transform policing so that we keep our residents safe,” said Piet Van Lier, lead researcher at Policy Matters Ohio.

A new report by Cleveland-based think tank Policy Matters Ohio calls for social workers to answer emergency calls that deal with mental health issues.

“They come upon a person who is having a mental health crisis, they think about what this person needs right now and in most cases, it’s not going to be a hospital, certainly not jail,” said Van Lier.

Van Lier and his team examined more than 10,000 calls for service that call into the Cleveland dispatch over a 20-day period.

They found that 37 percent of those calls could have been answered by non-police first responders.

“There’s one set of calls listed as non-violent family trouble, checking the welfare of a person, property crime, there’s a category called mental non-violent disturbing... these are some of the examples of the kinds of calls that it’s pretty clear, they won’t need an armed response,” said Van Lier.

Van Lier says this new way of re-imagining 9-1-1 calls could help cut down on violent interactions with police and community members.

“Safety of the community is first and foremost,” said Van Lier. “How do we help people where they are and get them the help they need and keep everybody safe?”

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