Criminal Justice Forum Reveals New Information and Old Problems
By Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator, Community Access, Project Coordinator, Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams in NYC (CCINYC)
Community Asks Its Leaders, “What Is Taking So Long?”
The Daily News, The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation(IAF) hosted a forum on diverting people with mental health concerns away from the criminal justice system.
The February 14, 2018 forum was actually the 4th in a four-part series.
The focus of the last forum was Crisis Intervention Team training and catching people at the first intercept. An intercept is a step where people encounter the criminal justice system. There are 4 intercepts:
· Intercept 1 is on the streets, where people meet police;
· Intercept 2 is from arrest to disposition;
· Intercept 3 is diverting people when they are in jail away from longer sentencing; and
· Intercept 4 is release and re-entry.
In attendance were some heavy hitters in the field of mental health and criminal justice. There was Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene(DOHMH), Commissioner Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.
A large part of the planning for this event centered not only on what the police are doing but what the Mayor is doing to find solutions to the recent string of nine police shootings of New York City residents with mental health concerns during crisis calls, or Emotionally Disturbed Person(EDP) calls.
In 2014, Mayor de Blasio convened an impressive Taskforce to look into all the intercepts where people with mental health needs encounter the criminal justice system. Many city agencies and health care providers were on that Taskforce. Each stage of encounter—intercept—had a committee.
I was on the Taskforce committee that strategized about Intercept 1. We brainstormed for a year and came up with the recommendation to train police about how to respond to those in emotional crisis and to build two drop-off centers where police could take people in distress, now known as diversion centers.
At the meeting in February, Elizabeth Glazer was asked about whether Mayor de Blasio would revive his Taskforce on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health.
Glazer did not publicly answer the question. But as I caught her walking out the door she said the Mayor was working on something, maybe not what we want, but some version of a Taskforce. But politicians always say that.
Dr. Gary Belkin was grilled on why DOHMH has not yet built the two diversion centers promised in 2014. Dr. Belkin noted that Project Renewal and Samaritan Day Top Village were awarded contracts to build the diversion centers recently. But the questions are still: where will they find the land to build the massive diversion centers? And how long will the construction take? No timeline has been given.
Commissioner O’Neill was asked many questions and hit with many concerns, as one might imagine. To his credit, the Commissioner answered all questions and remained after the end of the Forum to speak to people.
Commissioner O’Neill admitted that most EDP encounters occur quickly. He noted one shooting occurred in the first 17 seconds of officers being on the scene. Usually experts say the first 3 to 4 minutes is where violence occurs.
Many people asked about non-police alternatives to answering the crisis calls.
Surprisingly, O’Neill stated that Staten Island is piloting a program where some 911 calls get screened to determine if police are needed or if social workers can field the call instead. Little is known about this program to anyone. This program was not mentioned in the quarterly NYPD advocate meetings I attend, nor is DOHMH staff familiar with this program.
Instances of projects being hidden like this show the need for the Mayor to bring a Taskforce back together to look at alternatives like this, and at least to issue reports to the public on what is already being done.