May 15, 2023

New clinician-led team will respond to mental health calls without police

City leaders announce details of a new clinician-led response team on May 15, 2023. - Katrina Pross/WFYI

City leaders announce details of a new clinician-led response team on May 15, 2023.

Katrina Pross/WFYI

City officials announced details Monday on the new clinician-led team that will respond to mental health calls in Indianapolis.

The pilot program was announced last year, along with $2 million in funding as part of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s 2023 budget. The program is expected to launch this summer, and team members will respond to incidents in Indianapolis’ downtown district and eventually the east side district.

At full capacity, the program will operate 24/7 and include 36 staff members. The staff will be split up into teams that will include a clinical supervisor, a licensed clinical social worker and a peer specialist. Until the program is completely staffed, each team will take turns operating on a three day, 10-hour shift schedule with varying hours, dependent on call volume.

“Our ambition for better access to mental health care in Indianapolis does not end here – it does not end today,” Hogsett said at a press conference Monday. “But it is a critical step to ensure residents who are ill will be cared for and not incarcerated.”

Community members have advocated for a crisis response team that does not include a police officer for years. Indianapolis currently has a Mobile Crisis Assistance Team that includes a clinician and a police officer, but some advocates have criticized police involvement in MCAT and its limited hours. MCAT operates weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“I have dreamed of the day that I could have a non-policing crisis response option for my clients,” said Bianca Harris, a therapist and owner of the Phoenix Nicholas Center, at Monday’s announcement. “Having a system that my clients can access without police intervention that could end up irreversibly altering their lives. It's not only a need, but it's a priority.”

MCAT will still operate and serve as a backup option during its on-duty hours. Then, police will respond to incidents after MCAT hours end. Additionally, if a weapon is involved, MCAT or IMPD will respond instead of the clinician team.

The new program comes amid calls for better mental health response following the in-custody death of Herman Whitfield III. Whitfield’s parents called 911 on April 25, 2022, hoping an ambulance would take their son – who was having a mental health crisis – to the hospital. Instead, six police officers responded, tasing him twice and placing him in the prone position until he became unresponsive. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Last month, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office announced that a grand jury indicted two of the officers involved.

City officials would not comment Monday on the Whitfield case due to the ongoing criminal and civil litigation.

This story has been updated.

Contact WFYI criminal justice reporter Katrina Pross at Follow on Twitter: @katrina_pross.

Pross is a Corps Member of Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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