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A pilot program in NYC that allows social workers and other non-police professionals to respond to non-violent emergency calls is showing great success, according to data from the program. B-HEARD, which stands for Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, has responded to over 100 calls in Harlem over the last month, with a 95% rate of people accepting the help.

According to the city’s data, when police respond to non-violent calls, help is accepted 82% of the time.

B-HEARD is part of a number of programs nationwide that address mental health issues with a social worker and a health care provider, rather than law enforcement. B-HEARD’s team consists of three social workers, plus at least one emergency health technician. While all team members are trained in self-defense, they have only needed police backup seven times out of the 100 calls so far.


The B-HEARD teams respond to emergency calls that do not include violent behavior or those with violent weapons. Approximately half the calls to B-HEARD receive treatment at a mental health facility, while the other half go to the hospital or home. 

According to Susan Herman, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health, “When we look at how this entire system has been operating for decades, we’re beginning to see a pivot in how people suffering from a mental health emergencies are being treated. We have only had positive, supportive interactions so far, and people are getting mental health care sooner than in a traditional response.”

Law enforcement officers still respond to non-violent mental health calls, but also refer calls to B-HEARD. Currently, B-HEARD responds to a quarter of the calls to 911, with plans to increase that number to 50% once more professionals are trained in the appropriate response. B-HEARD is also planning to expand its reach to other communities in New York. 

The city is moving forward with B-HEARD carefully and thoughtfully, considering the lives of both residents and professionals as it increases its reach. Continued Ms. Herman, “We want this to work for everyone, from the people who need care to the first responders as well. That’s why we’re ramping up very carefully and deliberately.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...