New program to help Dallas PD answer mental health calls

First responders will soon have a new tool to handle mental health emergency calls in South Central Dallas.

The RIGHT Care Program is aimed at relieving pressure on already tight emergency resources and proving better health care. It's the first of its kind in the state and is more than two years in the making. If all goes well, it'll eventually roll out to the entire city.

A donated Chevy Tahoe needed to answer 911 calls will soon carry a Dallas police officer, a paramedic and a health care professional from Parkland to take them out of the hospital and onto the streets.

Dallas saw 911 calls increase by an average of 18 percent from 2012 to 2015. Of the 17,000 people with mental illness booked into Dallas County jail annually, about 40 percent of them return within a year of their release.

Dallas police came to this conclusion that more officers would not be the solution.

“It's getting the services that the individual needs is more important than having so many officers at the call,” said DPD Asst. Chief Paul Stokes. “By doing this, we are hoping to limit or reduce the amount of police resources going to these calls.”

Dallas Fire-Rescue has a similar goal. Last year, the department even ran out of ambulances at times.

“A lot of times when we dispatch an ambulance to deal with mental health calls, those aren't quick and easy calls to resolve,” said Dallas Fire-Rescue Asst. Chief Daniel Salazar. We may have to be on scene for some time.”

So far, five healthcare professionals from Parkland will be on the team to assist with a variety of solutions. They will help by getting people their medicines, work out insurance copays, and divert hospitalization.

Dallas Fire-Rescue says the collaboration would likely not have thwarted an ambush last May on paramedic William An who survived being shot twice while responding to a call of a potential suicide. But it will provide a layer of help that a certain community desperately needs.

“We are not going to change anything as it relates to the initial response. We are going to still send the police officers and the paramedics to make sure everything is fine,” Salazar explained. “Once they deem there is not a medical emergency, that there's not a safety issue at the scene, then the RIGHT Care Team will be requested.”