Family Service of Rhode Island and the Providence Center will both work to develop a series of recommendations to incorporate mental health services into the city’s public safety operations. The recommendations are expected to be released in November, after a series of public meetings. The city budget has earmarked $600,000 this fiscal year to implement new programs. 

“Now, when you call 911, the question is, ‘is it fire or police?’” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza Thursday. “We envision a time in the future where the question will be, ‘is it fire police or mental health?’”

Elorza said he imagined state funding might also be necessary to help pay for any new programs. 

“Mental Health calls to our police department have grown by 92% from 2018 to last year in Providence,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza Thursday, citing a recent apparent suicide attempt in the city to which law enforcement responded. “Incidents like this begs the question, are the police the most appropriate resource to respond to these incidents?”

Because the program is still in its early phases, officials declined to offer details on any new program, nor a standard for when mental health professionals would be sent on a call in lieu of a police officer. 

Social workers have accompanied Providence officers on calls for more than a decade, but often there is only one or two social workers available to respond per shift, according to the city’s Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré.

“So what's existing is very small and it's been very small,” said Paré. “This will build capacity, and ultimately have a system where those social workers respond to those calls, rather than police when it's a non violent situation.”

Police reform advocates in the city have recently increased calls to reallocate money from law enforcement budgets to programming including mental health support for residents. This program does not pull money from the city’s police budget, still advocates say they are pleased that new resources are going towards this effort.

“Obviously this is connected work to what Black Lives Matter RI PAC is involved with,” said Harrison Tuttle, head of the BLM RI PAC, and is set to be a member of the steering committee helping shape new programs. 

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Tuttle said. “My plan is to propose a plan that reflects what the community has been asking for, for more than a year a half now.”