/ April 10, 2021

Co-Response Teams: A mother’s worry led to lasting change

Victor’s mother was worried.

She lives in Queens with her son, his ex-wife, and their three children. In October of 2019, she noticed that her son’s behavior was getting increasingly erratic and self-destructive. Since losing his job earlier in the year, Victor was drinking more, and taking Xanax, too. Lately he was making threats of aggression and suicide. Then one day, he received a head injury in a physical altercation with someone on the street.

It was clear that Victor needed assistance – and soon, before he or someone else was hurt. That’s when his mother called NYC Well.

Because of the potential for violence, NYC Well asked for a Co-Response Team to intervene. Within 24 hours, a team consisting of one behavioral health clinician and two police officers went to Victor’s home. A collaboration between the New York City Police Department and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Co-Response Teams work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, to support community members like Victor, who are experiencing mental health challenges and face an elevated risk of harm to themselves or others. All police officers assigned to Co-Response Teams have received Crisis Intervention Team training, a four-day in-service training course designed to teach officers how to identify different types of mental health crises, as well as crisis intervention and de-escalation concepts.

Brett, the clinician on the team, has extensive experience working with people struggling with substance use. In talking with Victor, Brett and the officers were able to zero in on Victor’s needs and intervene in ways that worked best for him. All three of them acknowledged his many strengths. For Victor, the support of his family, work experience and previous periods of stability were all motivators for getting better. This client-centered, collaborative decision-making is at the heart of the Co-Response Team approach. As Brett puts it, “it’s always important to meet the client where they’re at.”

The team got to work, meeting with Victor every couple of weeks over the next three months. Between meetings, they helped find long-term mental health services to support Victor’s progress. Brett called nearby clinics and found a Mental Illness Chemical Abuse Program where Victor enrolled, and began seeing a therapist.

“After continuously engaging with Victor, we developed a strong bond and trust that made it very easy to work with and connect him to services,” said Marcos, one of the police officers on the Co-Response team. With the team’s help and his family’s encouragement, Victor started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to build a sober support network. The team also referred him to a job training and placement agency so he could connect to stable employment.

Within months, Victor was showing significant improvement. The Co-Response Team saw physical signs of progress in the way Victor presented himself and lived. Victor felt the change, too – he told the team that he was hopeful for his future again. Most importantly, he felt able to be there for his kids in a way he couldn’t before.

AT A GLANCE: Co-Response Teams

• Teams of 2 police officers and 1 behavioral health professional intervene before and after crises to support New Yorkers at an increased risk of harm to self or others
• Available 14 hours a day, 7 days a week in all 5 boroughs
• Staffed by both NYPD and DOHMH, the Triage Desk receives referrals from NYC Well, law enforcement, and others who encounter community members presenting with mental health or substance use challenges
• Teams provide connection to mental health care and other support, including housing, employment, social services, and family, leading to greater stability to people’s lives

• Co-Response Teams have served over, 2,221 New Yorkers since 2016
• In the most recent reporting period (Fiscal Year 22 Quarter 1 analysis), there was a 79% reduction in police contacts involving violent offenses among New Yorkers who had previous violent offenses