/ April 8, 2022

WNYC: The city is expanding a program that diverts some mental health emergency calls from police to social workers and medics

By Matt Katz

MAR 30, 2022

Eudes Pierre was brandishing a small pink knife on the street early one morning last December. When he headed into Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue subway station, officers converged on the scene. Fearing he had a gun in his pocket, they kept their distance. Police later said Pierre had attempted suicide in the past, and h. His family said he had been treated for mental illness.

“You okay pal, you need help?” one officer asked, according to body-worn camera footage released by the state Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the incident. “We’re here to help you, dude. Just put the knife down. If you put it down we can talk, and get you help … Nobody wants to get hurt here.”

But somebody did get hurt. Officers couldn’t subdue Eudes Pierre with Tasers. Soon enough he walked up the stairs of the station, prompting officers to draw their guns and call for cover. When he ran into the street — police later said he was running toward a cop — two officers shot him 10 times, according to police. He was handcuffed. Officers then administered first aid until the ambulance arrived 10 minutes later. Pierre, 26, a deliveryman for Uber Eats who was on a leave from his studies at the College of Staten Island, died at the hospital.

“If there was someone there just to listen to him,” said Rohlan Pierre, his older brother, moments after viewing videos of the shooting. “Because that’s probably all he really wanted and needed, was somebody to just listen to him at that moment.”

New York is expanding a pilot program that does just that — dispatching unarmed professionals to listen to, and otherwise assist, those experiencing mental health crises. The goal is to avoid the violence that too often ensues when police officers respond to the scene. Since 2016, NYPD officers have shot and killed 19 people in the midst of a mental health crisis, 16 of whom were people of color, according to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the advocacy group Correct Crisis Intervention Today.

The new $50.4 million pilot program — called B-HEARD, or Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division — began in Harlem last summer and is expanding to Washington Heights and the South Bronx. It involves dispatching one social worker and two FDNY EMTs/paramedics, instead of cops, to mental health calls. B-HEARD does not respond to calls involving the threat of violence, so if it operated in the area where Pierre was killed, a B-HEARD team would likely not have responded. .

Officials say early indications are the program has been a success, helping to avoid costly, onerous hospitalizations, while connecting those in need to long-term assistance. But Pierre’s family and advocates for people with mental illness say that mental health professionals aren’t being dispatched often enough to save lives.

For the rest of this story, visit Gothamist.com

This piece was published by WNYC.