In 2020, Greensboro will spend $500,000 on a new mental health program, which includes a mental health response team that will be available 24/7 for any city employee who believes they are dealing with someone who is having a mental health crisis.

From the City Council discussion on Dec. 17, which is the only time the new program has been discussed in public in any detail, several issues were apparent. One, nobody knows the details of how the program will work, or the actual goal of the program.

Assistant City Manager Kim Sowell indicated that the dispatchers at Metro 911 would make a decision on whether to send police or mental health professionals to answer a 911 call.

Assistant City Manager Trey Davis said the police would always be dispatched and the police, after arriving on the scene, would make the decision on calling the mental health professionals for assistance.

Davis also said that he thought the response time of the mental health team would be 30 to 45 minutes.

At least three councilmembers noted that the mental health program was a response to a specific incident in 2018. None of them said it was the response to the death of Marcus Deon Smith, but Councilmember Goldie Wells spoke about the “unfortunate death of one of our citizens” and said that the City Council had decided to do something about it.

Councilmember Justin Outling noted that the program was in response to something that happened “and someone passed away.” He asked, “What would a service provider do so that we would have a different outcome? What would actually be done that would change that outcome?”

If Davis is even close to being correct about the response time for the mental health team of 30 to 45 minutes, then even if the new mental health response team had been in place it would not have been helpful in the incident that resulted in Smith’s death.

From the time police first encountered Smith – running in and out of traffic and shouting – to the time Smith was placed on a gurney to be transported by EMS to the hospital was less than 15 minutes.

The mental health team would not have been able to change the outcome of that situation because they would not have been on the scene for another 15 to 30 minutes.