When people in D.C. have a physical health emergency, such as a heart attack, calling 911 generally results in a trained medic responding to the scene and providing care. But when people in D.C. call 911 for a mental health emergency, it’s generally a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer who responds. MPD training and policies make it more likely that officers will exacerbate mental health emergencies than ameliorate them. Indeed, mental health professionals report that officers in D.C. rarely respond to crises in medically appropriate ways. On many occasions, officers have used unnecessary force against people in crisis.
The District’s reliance on police as its default first responders for mental health emergencies is not only unfair and unsafe but also unlawful. Federal disability law prohibits local governments from depriving people with disabilities of equal access to emergency services. Deploying medics for physical health crises but police for mental health ones does just that. Bread for the City, a D.C. non-profit that serves under-resourced community members, sued the District to rectify this injustice, demanding parity between the emergency services provided to physical health and mental health emergencies.
In addition to litigation, Bread, the ACLU-DC, and the ACLU are working to promote safe and effective emergency response services through their membership in the D.C. Crisis Response Coalition.