Diverting 911 Calls to Mental Health Pros

Strong Bipartisan Majority Favors Funding for Mental Health Professionals to Respond to Mental Health-Related 911 Calls, Rather than Police

A large bipartisan majority of three-in-four voters favors the federal government funding local programs that give 911 operators the ability to first send mental health professionals and social workers to a mental health-related incident, rather than police officers. Support is robust across party affiliation (Republicans 59%, Democrats 92%, independents 75%) and congressional districts (very red districts 71%, very blue districts 81%).

In nearly all cities, when 911 is called to report on a person with a mental health issue who is threatening self-harm or committing a non-violent offense such as disturbing the peace, 911 operators’ only option is to send the police. 

A bill in Congress named the Mental Health Justice and Parity Act of 2022, sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter,  would provide funds to cities to: 

  1. Hire mental health professionals
  2. Train 911 operators to recognize when a call involves a mental health issue 
  3. Give operators the ability to send such professionals to the scene first to try to get the person back home or in a hospital, and in treatment if they are not already

In a public consultation survey of 2,607 registered voters by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, respondents went through an online “policymaking simulation” designed to put citizens in the shoes of policymakers. Voters were given a briefing on the proposal, asked to evaluate pro and con arguments and then to make their final recommendation. The content was reviewed in advance by experts from different sides for accuracy and balance and to ensure the best arguments were being presented.

“The polarization seen in Congress and in much of the public discourse is not as prevalent among the public, where bipartisan majorities agree on a wide array of issues,” commented PPC Director Steven Kull. “These findings show that most Democrats and Republicans are unified in their belief that mental health professionals should be the first to respond to mental health-related 911 calls.”

Among Democrats, the pro arguments for mental health diversion were found convincing by over nine-in-ten, and the con arguments by less than half. Among Republicans, roughly equal-sized majorities found each of the arguments convincing, but in the end, a solid majority came out in favor of the diversion proposal.

The survey was conducted online from June 13 – 29, 2022 with a national probability-based sample and had a margin of error of +/- 1.9%. The sample was provided by Nielsen Scarborough from its larger sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The congressional district analysis was conducted by dividing the sample six ways, depending on Cook’s Political Report PVI ratings of the partisan orientation of the respondent’s Congressional district.

Survey Questionnaire: https://publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/DiversionPrograms-Quaire-Footnotes-070622.pdf

Try the Policymaking Simulation: http://s.alchemer.com/s3/Diversion-Programs

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