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City's mental health workers not dispatched on calls involving weapons

According to the health department MCIU will not go out on any calls that involve guns or a threat to violence.

NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans' Mobile Crisis Intervention Unit was formed to help those experiencing mental health crisis, but according to the health department they will not go out on any calls that involve guns or a threat to violence. 

Back in June when the city launched the Mobile Crisis Intervention Unit, Dr. Jennifer Avegno said, "MCIU is a team of specially trained mental health professionals who will respond to calls from individuals, families or community members who are experiencing a mental health crisis."

RELATED: 'This is personal', OPCD mental health crisis director ready to meet the need

Since June 1st the mobile crisis intervention unit has responded to 718 calls, while they can't take all the calls, Travers Kurr with the city's health department says NOPD can call MCIU for help and vice versa.

Kurr said, "We know this is not a service able to take 100 percent of mental health calls."

He went on to say, "Mental health crisis can pose some volatile environments."

Which is why we wanted to know why an MCIU unit wasn't present as police responded to calls of a disturbed man in the Pines Village residence on Sept. 14. A family member, said the man was acting erratically and threatening family members. When police arrived to the Frances Drive home, the man barricaded himself inside, so they initiated a swat roll.

RELATED: NOPD SWAT roll declared at Pines Village residence

A family member says they'd noticed a decline in the man's mental health in the lead up to the SWAT roll.

At the initial launch of MCIU, Mayor Cantrell said, "Providing the experts, the behavioral health experts, again on the ground when we hear the need of our residents when they make that call."

When a call comes into 911, staff at OPCD have to determine if the person is exhibiting violent behavior, if there's a threat of violence, if firearms are involved or if the person themselves is in imminent danger, if any of those are present, the call is triaged to NOPD.

In the Pines Village case, police believe the man who barricaded himself might have had a weapon.

Janet Hays with Healing Minds NOLA says police and mental health experts need to work together far more frequently. So, they can learn how to approach anyone facing a mental health crisis.

Hays said, "The MCIU do not go on calls involving weapons, in particular guns and knives, which is a problem because someone hands can also be a weapon."

She went on to say, "We don't want to come at them with sirens blaring and things that are going to cause them to escalate."

It's de-escalation that can also be life-saving. NOPD says the man from Thursday's swat roll was taken into custody and to the hospital for medical evaluation.  The city says MCIU was not dispatched to Frances Drive that day.

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