New York – In recent months and years, we have seen several tragic indicators that there are fundamental flaws in the way that our city addresses behavioral health crises. Most recently, the shooting death of Saheed Vassell has drawn renewed focus to months of calls for a task force to review and reform these practices, calls which members of the Progressive Caucus have been making with allies since the death of Dwayne Jeune in 2017.

The Caucus commends the administration for recognizing the dire need for an alternative approach to handling safety concerns around emotionally distressed persons (EDPs) through the formation of a city-wide multi-agency task force. Recognizing this tremendous step towards truly making our city a safe place for all New Yorkers, the Progressive Caucus will continue to advocate for reforms through this task force, including the creation of new systems where social workers or well-trained 911 call operators divert 911 calls to social workers or therapists or trained peers instead of police response; an expansion mobile crisis teams who can respond to crisis within 30 minutes of a call; building a large system of co-response teams who can respond to 911 calls; and building a system where trained peers or therapist can meet police at the scene of 911 calls.

We look forward to working with the Mayor’s Office and this task force to implement solutions which prevent the criminalization of mental illness while providing the support and resources needed to properly address behavioral health crises – both for the long-term well-being and safety of emotionally distressed persons and the community to which they belong. As the administration rightly notes, the approach must be comprehensive, encompassing not only emergency response but also preventative, community-inclusive measures that could avert such crises.

“The NYC Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force will grant stakeholders the opportunity to cultivate holistic approaches to prevent behavioral health crises. As the Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction, I am looking forward to the recommendations that will result from this task force and I thank Mayor de Blasio, First Lady McCray, and the Health Department for investing resources into the creation of this body,” said Council Member Diana Ayala, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction.

“It is as important as ever that we bring together professionals from all different fields related to behavioral health to come up with a new citywide strategy to prevent these crises before they happen,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Member of the Progressive Caucus, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety. “We must also look at expanding our response teams when emergencies occur to prevent any loss of life in our communities. A mental illness shouldn’t be a death sentence, which is why it is imperative that we continue the conversation around better practices and keep pushing to find a smarter and safer approach. I’d like to thank Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray for their continued efforts to attack behavioral and mental illness head on.”

“I am glad this this long overdue task force is being convened, and that the administration recognizes the need for this issue to be a priority. The deaths of Dwayne Jeune, Saheed Vassell, and too many others have shown that there are fundamental flaws in the way our city handles EDP emergencies. I look forward to working with the task force to reform this system to provide the support and resources needed to properly address emotional distress and mental health crises,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Member of the Progressive Caucus.

“The Mayor is to be commended for his commitment to expanding access to mental health services for New Yorkers and for recognizing the need to focus additional attention on the many complex issues related to police interactions with people in an emotional crisis. We believe a task force of this type is the best approach to create diversion and treatment strategies that are effective and sustainable,” said Steve Coe, CEO of Community Access.

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