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Buffalo Police Advisory Board proposes changes for mental health calls

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Mental health 911 calls could soon be handled differently.

The Buffalo Police Advisory Board proposed a new ‘diversion’ program to the Buffalo Common Council today.

This is coming about four months after Buffalo Police officers responded to a mental health crisis call for a man with a baseball bat.

That man, Willie Henley, was shot after he reportedly hit a female officer with the bat.

The board proposed 911 mental health calls go to mental health experts, and police only show up if needed.

Dispatchers will be trained on how to handle these calls.

Captain Jeff Rinaldo with Buffalo Police says the county is in charge of dispatchers and he’s been told they are starting a diversion pilot program soon.

It will originally run five days a week for five hours a day.

“The county dispatchers are getting trained to hand calls that qualify off to Erie County’s Crisis Services hotline. They will have counselors on hand to take those calls and remedy them in the appropriate manner. If for some reason in the middle of that call, if the need for police becomes apparent, the crisis services workers will have direct services to Buffalo Police dispatch to send a car to as not delay the response,” Rinaldo said.

A spokesperson with Erie County says a technical issue with crisis services has stalled the rollout a bit, but it will begin soon.

If the pilot is successful and more funding is provided, the hope is to expand it later this year.


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