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Behavioral health calls make up a substantial number of calls to 911; police become the default first responders. Data and studies show that officers interact with those with mental illness or emotional disturbances regularly. Many of these individuals end up incarcerated instead of getting appropriate medical or social services.

A StarTribune analysis found that in Minnesota at least 45% of people killed by law enforcement since 2000 had a history of mental illness or were in a mental health crisis.


Co-Responder and Behavioral Crisis Response Programs

From 2017 to 2020 the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) provided Co-Responder teams consisting of MPD officers and mental health professionals from Hennepin County’s COPE Mobile Crisis. They were housed in police precincts and accompanied police on mental health calls. COPE discontinued this work when COVID began. Many in the BIPOC community, some City Council members and others felt the presence of a sworn officer often exacerbated the crisis. After this, the Minneapolis Office of Performance and Innovation (P&I) worked to pilot a program to deploy civilian crisis teams to answer some behavioral health calls. Officers would be dispatched when a call involved weapons or violence.

The Behavioral Crisis Response (BCR) teams, as they were called, started in December 2021 to provide crisis intervention, counseling and connection to support services as an alternative to police.  P & I understood that BIPOC residents represent about 37% of Minneapolis residents, but 52% of the mental health calls. The city council approved a two-year $6 million contract with Canopy Mental Health and Consulting, a majority Black owned company, to carry out the pilot. Initially, two teams were available to respond to calls on weekdays. In its first three months, the Canopy Roots (the mobile crisis program) BCR teams received 1,655 calls from every neighborhood. Of these calls, MPD provided backup 12% of the time. About 11% of calls to BCR came from police officers calling for backup.

Challenges and Future Investment

Challenges include limited BCR capacity and options to connect to ongoing services, particularly emergency housing for the “unsheltered”. The teams can access the 1800 Chicago Avenue Hennepin County facility, staffed by county social workers where people can go voluntarily.

The community response as well as the feedback from the MPD rank and file has been positive. The number of BCR teams will now be expanded and weekend service will be added. Mayor Frey’s 2023-24 budget includes increased funding to expand the BCR program with a $1.45 million investment in 2023 and $2.9 million in 2024. The city council is supportive.

To support the effectiveness of the BCR teams, P & I established two additional pilots.                                                                                                   

  • Additional training to 911 callers in mental health. This is in the implementation phase with ongoing performance monitoring                                     
  • Embed a mental health professional in 911 to improve mental health triage and more effectively identify and advise on appropriate resources for the person in crisis. This is in the design phase and P & I is exploring an opportunity with 911


Crisis Response Is Legislated

In response to the death of Travis Jordan, a mentally ill man whom police shot and killed three years ago after he approached the police with a large knife during a mental health call, the Legislature passed Travis’ Law in 2021.  That statute requires dispatchers to direct some mental health calls to crisis teams.