The second time turned out to be the charm in terms of the new Greensboro mental health department.

The original attempt approved by the Greensboro City Council using an outside agency to provide mental health counselors proved to be time consuming and awkward.

City staff redesigned the program and came up with the Behavioral Health Response Team, where the mental health counselors are city employees and accompany specially trained police officers on calls.  According to all accounts this program has been a major success.

At the Tuesday, Aug. 26 work session Assistant City Manager Kim Sowell introduced the report on the Behavioral Health Response Team by saying, “We are thrilled Madam Mayor and members of the council with this program.”

Behavioral Health Response Team supervisor Erin Williams presented the report to City Council that went over a lot of numbers indicating the success of the program that pairs a police officer with a mental health crisis counselor to answer calls that are determined to be mental health related. 

All crisis counselors have master’s degrees and all police officers on the team have training in crisis intervention, de-escalation, integrating communications and tactics and interacting with the mentally ill.

Williams said that a part-time roster position was added in May to focus on following up on referrals and proactive follow-up for repeat callers.  Williams said adding this position had been so successful that they would like to make the position full time.

Williams said that the BHRT had responded to about 2,000 calls through June 30 of this year.

The demographics of those calls were particularly interesting to City Council, with 58 percent of the calls being from black individuals and 35 percent from whites.

Also, 8 percent of the callers were identified as homeless and 78 percent as living in a private residence.

Along with increasing the outreach coordinator to full time, Williams said that going forward they would like to create a senior counselor position to supervise the second shift.  Sowell said they were already in the process of creating this position.

Williams also said one of the goals was to increase the awareness of this service to the community.

Police Chief Brian James said, “This has been a great partnership.”  James said that one of the successes of the program is that because of the follow up done by the BHRT team the number of repeat calls to the Police Department has dropped.  He said, “I think what will happen over time is that we will see a huge reduction in calls.”