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Thrive NYC Director: City's New Mental Health Response Pilot Program To Begin In Harlem

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The city is set to launch a pilot program that will take the NYPD out of responding to 911 calls tied to mental health. It's part of an effort to improve safety and service.

Police officers in Harlem will soon stop responding to 911 calls involving people who are mentally ill, unless there's a weapon involved or "imminent risk of harm," CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported Monday.

Instead, in the 25th, 28th and 32nd precincts, a specially trained team of one social worker and two FDNY EMTs will respond, as part of the new pilot program.

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"This zone was chosen because it has a very high volume of mental health crisis calls," ThriveNYC director Susan Herman said.

The news of where the program would launch came from Herman, of Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial mental health office. She appeared to get ahead of the boss, himself, who was asked again Monday about location.

"That's absolutely about to be clarified. I think it's going to prove to be extraordinarily effective and necessary," de Blasio said.

Herman said the pilot will start this spring. Currently, police and EMS respond to each call.

"For far too long, our city's response to mental health calls has been a failure," Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said.

Lawmakers point to cases like Dwayne Jeune in Brooklyn, who suffered from mental illness and was killed by police when he charged at them with a knife.

One proposed City Council bill would establish a three-digit mental health emergency hotline. The other, in part, would establish a citywide mental health emergency response protocol.

The NYPD would be involved only if there's a public safety emergency.

Critics say that's too broad.

As for the mayor's pilot, when it was originally announced last year the EMS union had big concerns about safety. The union president says before it moves forward it must ensure the security of his workforce.

FDNY EMS currently responds to more than 150,000 mental health emergencies each year.

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