The City of Madison Fire Department, Dane County and Journey Mental Health authorized agreements Monday with the Finance Committee to establish new crisis response teams for mental and behavioral health emergencies in Madison. 

The teams will consist of two people, one paramedic and one crisis worker. Together, they will employ trauma-informed de-escalation as well as harm reduction techniques to address mental health emergencies.

Crisis response teams will supplement the Madison police, who receive about 20 calls regarding mental health emergencies every day, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a press release. Since only a small number of those calls involve a person who poses a threat to themselves or others, there is room for alternative response teams.

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The program was funded in the 2021 budget and city officials hope to implement it June 1, though they realize a project with so many partners will be difficult to coordinate.

Assistant Chief of Medical Affairs and project lead Ché Stedman said the City of Madison Fire Department has been pushing for the creation of such a program for years.

“We had been trying to get some money in our budget to hire more community paramedics and do some mental health work, but this last year was the first year that we finally got supported in it,” Stedman said.

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This new support was partially due to the recent backlash against the Madison Police Department, as well as a push for more alternatives to traditional policing, Stedman said. 

Crisis response teams will offer callers more appropriate care and quicker referrals, Stedman said — their response to a mental health emergency will be more tailored to the situation than a police officer’s might be. 

“It’s going to hopefully help divert people from jails and emergency rooms,” Stedman said. 

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In addition to helping community members in need, the program will take some strain off the current 911 system, Stedman said.

As of now, patrol officers can take up to three hours responding to a single mental health call, though they are often needed elsewhere.

“When we look around the country at best practices, it’s having a non-law-enforcement, non-gun-carrying person show up to help people in mental health crises,” Stedman said. “The county, in my opinion, is doing a lot of good work.”