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Detroit police adding more crisis trained officers to respond to mental health calls

Detroit police are adding more crisis trained officers to respond to mental health calls, Detroit Police Chief James White announced Wednesday.

Eighteen officers will be part of a centralized team that will respond to mental health crises across the city. The team will include nine behavioral specialists from Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network, who have backgrounds in social work, psychology, counseling and nursing.

Detroit City Councilmember Gabriela Santiago Romero said that the Detroit Police Department is responding to around 64 mental health calls a day.

The crisis intervention team will have access to the less-lethal weapons like pepper rounds and foam balls that the department announced earlier this week.

The team will also have new cameras that can upload footage via WiFi, as well as new “throw cameras” that have audio capability that will allow officers to communicate with people in hostage situations.

Chief White said that the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners and City Council will need to approve the new equipment but that the department has the funds for it in their new budget.

There are 100 crisis intervention trained officers in the Detroit Police Department. Every precinct has at least one officer who is trained.

The crisis trained officers will not be wearing a traditional police uniform, but will instead wear long sleeve gray shirts and khaki pants. The police cars will use green lights instead of red and blue.

Detroit Police Chief James White called it a softer approach and a good tool for de-escalation.

“The reality of it is we have training, but we're not mental health professionals. I'm not the mental health police here, but we have a mental health crisis. And this situation that we're in right now, we have to have the opportunity to respond more effectively,” White said.

White said new training and tools might lessen the possibility of deadly interactions with police.

"If there's an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of death and violence in the encounter, certainly we want to take advantage of it. But it's it's not an either or, though it's whatever the circumstance dictates how you're going to have to react," White said.

The announcement came after two recent high-profile cases where officers used deadly force against people with mental illnesses: the October 2 fatal shooting of Porter Burks and the November 10 shooting of Ki’Azia Miller.

White said that the department has responded to more than 17,000 mental health calls this year.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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