Hartford finalizing contracts with police-free crisis response teams

The team will give families an alternative to calling police if they’re concerned about a loved one’s behavior, the mayor and police chief have said

By Rebecca Lurye
Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — The city of Hartford is in talks with two local agencies about running a new civilian crisis intervention team to complement the police department, a program Mayor Luke Bronin initially hoped to launch this past summer.

The mayor’s office said it may award contracts to both Community Renewal Team and Wheeler Clinic to implement the new Hartford Community Responders program, which will provide an alternative to an armed police response in certain situations involving substance abuse, mental health and other non-violent problems.

“We are currently in the process of finalizing our agreements with providers, and we’re aiming to have the program in place by the first of the year,” communications assistant Akash Kaza said. Wheeler Clinic is is a community health center, providing addiction services and primary and behavioral health care, and CRT provides services to the vulnerable, low-income population.

The crisis team will give families an alternative to calling police if they’re concerned about a loved one’s behavioral or mental health, the mayor and Police Chief Jason Thody have said.

In addition to de-escalation, risk assessments and case management, the team will also be able to administer Narcan to people overdosing on opioids, help people with basic needs like clothes, food and shelter, and transport people to clinics, shelters and other service providers, according to the city’s request for proposals.

The city has budgeted $5 million in surplus funds to create the corps of professional responders and scale it up over four years. Bronin introduced the idea in June 2020, amid local and national protests against racism and police violence and calls for cities to redirect law enforcement spending to other community and social services.

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The city later said it wanted to launch Hartford Community Responders as early as July 2021, a goalpost that’s now pushed to January.

An online portal for bid opportunities in the city shows only three applicants to run Hartford Community Responders: Community Renewal Team, The Village for Families and Children and Latino Community Services.

Wheeler Clinic is not listed. Other prospective bidders included Hispanic Health Council, InterCommunity Inc., and the Latin Enrichment Organization. Kaza said the city contacted the Wheeler Clinic because it was uniquely qualified to treat juveniles in Hartford because of its work with 211 and Hartford Public Schools.

In 2020, Hartford police were sent to more than 11,000 calls for people in emotional distress. The city estimates that half of those calls could be handled by a professional civilian, such as a social worker trained in de-escalation, risk assessments and case management.

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Dispatchers will not send the responders to any calls that pose a danger to them or the public.

Capitol Region Mental Health will also continue responding to certain calls where people are experiencing acute distress, though the state-run agency has limited hours and resources.

©2021 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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