Minneapolis will add a mental health response to 911 calls

Beginning in August, Canopy Mental Health & Consulting will be responding to emergency calls along with police, firefighters and paramedics.


Image by Carter Blochwitz

City council members Cam Gordon and Steve Fletcher answer questions about affordable housing and share bad landlord experiences during a “Housing Town Hall” event hosted by the MSA at Coffman Memorial Theater, Wednesday Jan. 31, 2018.

by Emalyn Muzzy

At the end of June, on a rainy Saturday, Anna Schmitz, the community manager at Fair State Brewing Cooperative, was helping with a pop-up event. The line of people ran out of the store, and when she could, Schmitz popped outside to let customers know how the event worked.

On one trip outside, she found a man sitting next to the line wondering what was going on. She said he had trouble holding a conversation and needed help walking. Schmitz said she wanted to assist, so she called 311 and St. Stephen’s Human Services, both with no response.

She felt her only other option was to call the police, but she said the situation did not require an armed police response. Schmitz helped him grab food from Holy Land nearby and ordered him a Lyft to head home, but the ride was cancelled halfway through, with Schmitz not knowing why.

“I felt frustrated that we have such a lack of options right now and that there wasn’t more that I could have done,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz said that after the murder of George Floyd, she teamed up with over 100 other businesses in Minneapolis asking the city to provide an alternative to police response. In August, they will be one step further to their goal.

At the beginning of July, Minneapolis authorized $6 million for Canopy Mental Health & Consulting, a majority Black-owned business, to service the 24/7 mobile behavioral health crisis response teams for the next two years. The mobile behavioral crisis response will be an addition to 911 calls.

Canopy declined to comment and said they will wait until plans are finalized with the city to speak on record.

Black men are disproportionately killed by police, according to a Washington Post database. The database also shows that over 20% of people killed by police in 2020 had a mental illness.

Ward 3 Council member Steve Fletcher said the city is training Minneapolis 911 responders to know when to send out mental health professionals instead of the police.

“If someone is behaving as though they’re confused or they’re yelling or they’re being disruptive in a way that isn’t violent but it’s disruptive and disconcerting … [911 is] going to be routing mental health calls or behavioral health calls to this mobile behavioral team,” Fletcher said.

Police will still be sent out if someone appears to be a threat to themselves or others. If police or other first responders get to the scene and decide they are not equipped to respond to a mental health crisis, they can call for a mobile behavioral team to take over.

This behavioral team is a result of years of work. In 2018, Fletcher said the city started sending out mental health professionals with police.

A 911 work group also started monitoring calls that required a first responder other than police officers, Fletcher said. The group reported that police often respond to mental health calls, although officers may not have the training to deal with those situations.

“Improving the response in our communities requires a lot of collaboration, it requires a lot of testing and learning,” said Leah Kaiser, the Hennepin County senior department administrator for behavioral health.

When the program begins in August, the city will be watching closely to see how it can be improved in real time, said deputy city coordinator Andrea Larson at a Public Health and Safety Committee meeting. Ward 2 Council member Cam Gordon said that he thinks 911 calls will increase when this program begins.

“We’re really hopeful that this will be a great resource for folks for situations where folks are experiencing mental health crises and really need an unarmed and trained professional response,” Schmitz said.