When you call 911 usually the police arrive. Lately it has become painfully apparent that the police are not good at de-escalating a potentially violent or dangerous situation especially if it involves anyone suffering from mental health issues. Unfortunately the North Bay especially Sonoma and Napa Counties have been wracked by a number of police brutality lawsuits and internal investigations questioning why the police needed to use such heavy-handed tactics to subdue and or even kill those inflicted with mental health issues.
Hence, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, referred to as NAMI, has come up with a script for 911 emergency calls-particularly with regard to the new 211 emergency/mental health hotline for patients and/or family members who placed a call to help their loved one, not to have them shot or brutally beaten! The officers who are most likely to respond to these calls have had special mental health police training so they should be more sensitive.
It is strongly recommended that the well-meaning caller regardless whether the call is placed to 911 or 211 unambiguously state upfront that there is no weapon and the loved one, or family member, is suffering from mental distress, trauma and or erratic behavior. Here are some concrete suggestions to tell the dispatcher:
- State your name calmly, clearly and slowly and identify your familial relationship with the person.
- State the specific location/address and make sure to tell the officer that you may greet the first responder.
- Identify your family member or loved one by name and state emphatically and up front that he/she has a mental health condition and was diagnosed with the name of the mental illness.
- Make it real clear that you are requesting a mobile support team and requesting a psychology trained officer.
- Make it really clear that this person is not a danger to himself or to others if that’s the case.
- Make certain to state that this person is not armed and again, is not dangerous to anyone if that’s the case.
It is imperative that you state that this person/individual does not have a weapon and is not threatening others but that there is something definitely wrong because of the specific behaviors that you need to describe. You might even mention that the person has been on or off medications for a specific time period if that’s the case and/or that the person is struggling with drug and alcohol use since you want to inform the officers that there are multiple layers and self-medication if that is also the case.
The most important advice is for YOU, the caller is to FOLLOW dispatch’s instructions and be as polite and professional as possible even if the dispatch personnel or paramedics are rude and abrupt.
Please note that it is best if you call 911 from home whenever possible. If you are on a cellphone, then you can call any of the numbers on the Sonoma County emergency list but the two best numbers to call would be (707) 528-5222 and (707) 565-2121 and, again, the 211 mental health line if applicable. But, if out of habit you decide to call 911 following some if not all of the six (6) tips below may help to save a life.
If any of your family members are injured, or killed as a result of an emergency call that is made on their behalf, you may have a right to compensation through legal action/ wrongful death lawsuit. Please feel free to consult with us at any time to discuss your options. We can be reached 24/7 at 707-571-8600 in Santa Rosa and in San Rafael at 415-492-4507.