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988 and 911: Justice System Involvement in Mental Health Crises

BY BEN WHEATLEY

A woman was walking in the crosswalk of a busy intersection as the rain started to come down. She looked cold, but more than that, she looked off. She had no shoes on her feet and her countenance was in disarray. It seemed to me that she was in the midst of a mental health crisis. 

The woman approached where I was standing and I suggested that she go into the Starbucks on the corner to look for her shoes. At least in there, it would be warm. She didn’t go inside, but instead went to the entrance and sat down on the ground. 

Someone must have called 911 because a policeman and an ambulance with an emergency medical technician showed up. The EMT brought a stretcher down from the ambulance as the policeman watched over the situation. The woman got on the stretcher and the EMT placed a blanket over her. As this played out, the policeman stood in the background, allowing the EMT to take primary responsibility for the interaction. Since the woman seemed to pose little risk to herself or others, the response seemed to be the appropriate one. 

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