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Can Mark43 Help Police and Cities With Mental Health Calls?

After years of public outcry and calls for fresh approaches to policing, a new crisis response research tool from the software vendor aims to improve responses to mental and behavioral emergencies.

A police officer speaking with a person sitting on a road.
Despite concerns from criminal justice experts and reform advocates, law enforcement agencies continue to grapple with mental health calls even though they’re not always sufficiently staffed or trained to do so. Indeed, an October 2021 report from Pew found that few 911 calls centers “have staff with behavioral health crisis training to inform how they navigate 911 calls and dispatch responses.” Noting a need for public agencies to improve their crisis response plans, public-safety tech vendor Mark43 has built a new online research tool designed to help police officers, crisis workers, community leaders and others learn what works best.

The New York-based company announced its Crisis Response Directory in a news release last week, offering examples from North America, Europe and Australia of how law enforcement agencies and communities handle calls involving mental health and behavioral issues. The goal is to give frequently understaffed and underfunded departments — along with local officials, community groups and residents — a deeper look at their options for crisis response. Then, professionals involved in public safety can come up with their own methods and programs.

Mark43’s new directory is not for first responders in the field during a crisis, but for longer-term planning, said Ganesha Martin, Mark43’s vice president of public policy and community affairs.

“If the chief or mayor tells you to reimagine public safety, you can look at this to see what’s happening across the country,” she told Government Technology.

Martin said the new directory, which is free to use, has banked about 100 models so far, sorted by location and type, with links to specific departments and other operations. And the company’s clients are adding more.

For example, according to the directory, the Irving, Texas, police department runs a Mental Health Response Team which the agency describes as “a multidisciplinary team tasked with responding to individuals suffering from mental illness, substance use disorders, or other behavioral health issues.” Directory users can learn about the training and staffing involved in that effort, as well as similar groups and cooperation in the area, and specific tasks done by the team.

Other models could help directory users craft funding plans or otherwise set parameters for their own programs, Martin said.

The launch of the directory comes as law enforcement agencies across the world face mounting pressure over a variety of issues, including changing the way they respond to mental health-related 911 calls. As that happens, departments continue to change strategies and tactics, and run what amount to experiments with different types of responses.

One recent example comes from Nashville. According to a report from the Tennessean, the city is expanding its Partners in Care program that teams mental health clinicians with metro police officers on calls that have been flagged as potential mental health crises, hoping to divert people in crisis to intervention and resources instead of jail and the legal system.

Such work underscores Martin’s contention that public safety and community leaders would benefit from a single, easily accessed source of crisis response options.

Martin said her view stretches back to her work with the Baltimore Police Department, where she was director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and chief of Community Engagement and External Affairs. Thanks in part to consent decrees from the Justice Department requiring Baltimore PD to re-evaluate its policing practices, she started researching the topic via Google about five or six years ago and quickly realized there was no single reliable source of information, she said.

When she started with Mark43, she hired a researcher who found the same. That helped lead to the new directory, Martin said, which in turn may soon spark case studies about the different types of crisis response models.

Of course, the directory may also help the company stand out in an increasingly crowded market for public safety resources, according to Martin.

“We want to be thought leaders,” she said. “We want our brand to stand for more than just selling software.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in New Orleans.