Expert slams NYC's data on sending social workers to 911 calls, suffers from selection bias

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The New York City Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health has released the results of the first month of a new program designed to send social workers and other unarmed first responders to answer certain 911 calls instead of NYPD officers.

They show the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division (B-HEARD) pilot program saw a positive outlook after its trial run in parts of Harlem last month – but critics note that the program had its choice of calls to respond to and selected easy ones, making the rosy outlook an obvious conclusion.

And while the program may have freed up officers from having to respond to about 20% of specialized mental health 911 calls, experts don’t foresee the replacement or abolition of police.

“What you do when you disarm cops or when you send unarmed civilians in to do cop’s job is to expose civil employees to substantial risk, and then say you don’t get the tools of the trade that are requisite to minimizing that risk,” Charles F. Lehman, of the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, told Fox News Tuesday. “It’s like denying a firefighter or mine worker or electrical worker his safety equipment.”

The New York City Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health has released the results of the first month of a new program designed to send social workers and other unarmed first responders to answer certain 911 calls instead of NYPD officers.
(New York Police Department)

Lehman outlined his conclusions in a column for the institute’s public policy magazine, the City Journal, also published Tuesday: Because social workers were not sent to high-risk calls, the data suffered from a selection bias and an “apples-to-apples comparison” is impossible.

Dispatchers sent about 25% of mental health calls to B-HEARD in its first month, according to the mayor’s office, and that is expected to rise to 50% in the future.

But those call exclude incidents involving suspected violence, imminent harm or a subject who requires hospitalization.

Of the 138 calls 911 dispatchers sent to B-HEARD, the pilot program responded to only 107 of them.

“The remaining calls received the traditional response by NYPD and EMS, typically because the B-HEARD teams were busy responding to another call,” the city said in a statement.

Or because it was deemed too difficult or risky for an unarmed response, Lehman said, adding that the issue was not necessarily with how the city presented its data as much as with how the mainstream media touted the results.

In seven of those calls, B-HEARD responders called in NYPD backup. Comparatively, the NYPD requested assistance from B-HEARD on 14 occasions. The city report did not go into further detail but said “inter-agency coordination is working well.”

The B-HEARD data amounts to an experiment set up without a controlled variable, Lehman said, meaning what the city reported isn’t fair to use in a direct comparison to data on regular police responses.

On the bright side, however, Lehman said the program does show that sending EMTs, paramedics and social workers to certain low-risk calls can free up police officers to do more police work.

“If you want to have unarmed guys that go check on the guy who’s talking to himself, that’s fine,” he said. “But you’re still going to need a guy who’s prepared for when that situation turns violent.”

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