Letter to the editor at The Economist: Mental-health responders

February 12, 2022
The Economist
Letter to the Editor: Mental-health responders

This letter to the editor originally ran in The Economist on February 12, 2022, and is available online here (paywall).

It is not “all but impossible” to determine which 911 calls can replace police with trained mental-health responders (“Refunding the police”, January 15th). We have helped jurisdictions across America analyse hundreds of thousands of emergency calls, review call codes with law enforcement, identify situations that are less likely to result in arrest, rewrite call scripts to ask callers which emergency resources they need, and co-ordinate with clinicians who are embedded in 911 call centres to help triage mental-health calls. Initial data from communities that practise diversion tactics show that very few, if any, calls to alternative emergency-response programmes require law enforcement.

In Denver’s programme, not a single call has required police backup. Los Angeles has diverted hundreds of suicide-related calls to a local hospital with specialized suicide-response units. These approaches are logical and practical and free up police to focus on public-safety incidents that are better aligned with their training.

Gloria Gong
Executive Director
Government Performance Lab
Harvard Kennedy School

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Learn more about GPL’s work on alternative 911 emergency response.