Providence taps behavioral health groups to improve policing

Mayor Jorge Elorza announces a behavioral health initiative July 22, 2021 outside the Branch Ave. fire station in Providence. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Providence is working with local mental health experts to change the way city law enforcement responds to public safety calls.

Mayor Jorge Elorza announced Thursday that the city has tapped The Providence Center and Family Service of Rhode Island to create recommendations for a behavioral health crisis response program.

Under such a program, trained mental health professionals would respond to certain incidents alongside or in place of traditional police.

Elorza said the change in focus would help authorities deescalate dangerous situations while improving relations between police officers and the community. The new approach, he said, acknowledges that some individuals “need a helping hand, and not handcuffs.”

“We are living through a once-in-a-generation moment with the ability to change how we approach public safety and behavioral health issues in our city,” Elorza said Thursday when he announced the partnership.

The Providence Center and Family Service Rhode Island will review current policies and make recommendations, guided by a committee including mental health professionals, law enforcement and social service providers. A final set of recommended changes is expected after the review ends this fall.