ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Mayor Lovely Warren announced the launch of a new Person in Crisis (PIC) team Thursday, which will “provide a compassionate, non-law enforcement emergency response to people experimenting emotional or behavioral turmoil” in the City of Rochester.
Officials say the initial pilot program will run through June with the intention of continuing the operation beyond that pilot date.
“Today we take a significant step toward making much-needed change by revamping the way we respond to non-violent crises,” Mayor Warren said. “By mobilizing highly trained professionals, including crisis counselors and social workers, we can ensure that those in crisis receive treatment rather than punishment. This is a major change, not only in the way we handle non-violent law enforcement situations, but also in the way that we serve and protect some of our most vulnerable residents.”
Officials say beginning Thursday, the PIC team will provide a 24-hour per day, seven-day per week alternative response to emergency calls for service that involve mental health, substance abuse, and other related issues.
Each team will be compromised of behavioral health professionals, such as social workers and mental health counselors, working in teams of two, according to city officials.
“If we work together as a system, we can connect people and yes sometimes reconnect people to the right service to address their health issue,” said Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the city’s Department of Recreation and Human Services.
Calls for the PIC team can be placed through 911 or 211. Upon arrival, team members will follow protocol to ensure the scene is safe, then provide an analysis of the situation or crisis, and then engage the person with counseling and de-escalation techniques.
“Our role on the scene is to de-escalate and to make immediate connections to services,” said Alia Henton-Williams, the city’s Comprehensive Crisis Response Coordinator. “This may mean getting people to community-based care, right on the spot.”
Calls for a different type of response to mental health calls came from protesters after the death of Daniel Prude became public, during which Rochester police responded to a mental health call, and Prude was killed during the encounter.
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police back in March, but news of the incident came to light on September 2. Police worn body camera footage of the incident showed officers restraining a handcuffed Prude, who was naked with a spit hood over his head, before he ultimately went unconscious.
The PIC team was a component of the new Crisis Intervention Service Office, former in September to shift city behavioral health services away from the Rochester Police Department.
Monroe County has a similar program in place called FIT — the Forensic Intervention Team that partners clinicians with Monroe County’s law enforcement agencies to assist individuals with mental health needs and who have frequent contact with law enforcement.
The incident is still under investigation by both the New York State Attorney General’s Office and Rochester City Council.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.