City details new crisis response team for mental health calls – without police

Indianapolis leaders on Monday revealed details about a new crisis response program, made up of licensed social workers and clinicians, that will respond to mental health-related calls in the city in lieu of law enforcement.

The effort, called the Clinician-Led Community Response program, will roll out this summer starting in downtown Indianapolis. The teams will respond to 911 calls for nonviolent behavior crises or substance abuse help.

The aim is to avoid people in the throes of a mental crisis ending up in the criminal justice system.

"A health crisis is best dealt within the health care system, rather than the legal system," Mayor Joe Hogsett said.

Calls for such a program resurfaced last year when 39-year-old Herman Whitfield III was tased and handcuffed face down by Indianapolis police during a mental health crisis, ultimately leading to his death. Prior to Whitfield III's death, Hogsett pledged to develop such a program to assist with mental health calls. Monday, he revealed details about how the rollout will work.

More: What has happened in the year since Herman Whitfield III's death

How we got here

Indianapolis in the past several years launched efforts to improve its response to mental health-related calls.

In 2016, the city’s police department began its Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams (MCAT), comprised of a licensed mental health clinician who responded to a scene with police officers.

However, the team had some limitations.

The units only operate on weekdays between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., another point that was highlighted after Whitfield III’s death. His call for help occurred about 3:20 a.m., when the teams were not on duty.

Hogsett has advocated for a crisis response team that's on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In October last year, the City-County Council approved $2 million in its budget to pilot the program.

How the teams will work

The first phase of the program will consist of four teams, made up of a clinical supervisor, licensed social worker and a peer specialist. The units will respond to nonviolent, mental health-related 911 calls. Officials estimate the teams will be ready to dispatch by July 1.

Multiple groups will at first stagger 10-hour shifts, three days a week, starting downtown. The city then intends to expand the teams to cover a 24/7 schedule on the city's east side. Thirty-six clinicians, social workers and providers will make up the program once it's at full capacity. If the program sees success, officials said, they hope to expand the teams to other areas of the city.

Officials said MCAT officers will still be available as a backup in case an officer is needed.

Contact Sarah Nelson at 317-503-7514 or sarah.nelson@indystar.com.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis unveils crisis response team for mental health calls