The New York Police Department has a new alert system that lets officers know if they are responding to locations where police have previously been sent to deal with the mentally ill. Newsday reports that the initiative was sparked by the fatal 2007 shooting of a man who confronted officers with a broken wine bottle. A 911 dispatcher handling a “triggering incident” — anything from a “shots fired” call to an assault in progress — checks the address to see if it has been the scene of three previous incidents involving an emotionally disturbed person in the preceding 365 days.
If so, the dispatcher tells responding officers about the previous incidents and sends to the scene an ambulance and the Emergency Service Unit, whose officers are best-trained to deal with the mentally ill. A police patrol supervisor, usually armed with a portable Taser, is also sent to the scene. “It’s definitely not a cure-all,” says Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But it gets the supervisor rolling early, it gets ESU rolling early and it gets the officers going there talking so they can tactically prepare for what to do.” New York police last year responded to 87,000 911 calls involving an emotionally disturbed person, up from 64,000 in 1999.