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Winston-Salem city leaders are holding a community input session Thursday to discuss ways to improve police response to calls related to mental health emergencies. “The public is invited to come and weigh in on this process,” said assistant city manager Patrice Toney ahead of the meeting. “As we hear the community’s input around this, we try to create programs and opportunities that make sense.”Toney, who oversees police, fire and emergency management in her role, said her team began exploring options to present to the public safety committee about a year ago after hearing concerns about law enforcement’s ability to respond to people in a mental health emergency. Toney said the city has already begun collecting and analyzing data to better understand the kinds of calls that could benefit from an alternative response and areas of the community where mental health-related calls are most frequent. The Research Triangle Institute collected that data, she said. Lt. John Morris, of the Winston-Salem Police Department, said he thought the idea to expand the resources available to officers during a mental health call could be a positive tool for the department, adding other agencies are often at a scene already during an emergency.“Our job as law enforcement is to look at every aspect of the call we’re going to,” he said. “We work with other agencies all the time, whether it’s EMS, whether it’s fire or adult protective services, child protective services. We work really in conjunction with a lot of agencies where they actually come to the scene.” “Someone with that training, we could bring them in, in a safe environment — safety is always paramount — we could better help a citizen going through that crisis,” Morris said. Morris encouraged community members to share their thoughts about ways the department could best serve its citizens.“To best serve the community, we need to hear from the community,” Morris said.Toney said following Thursday’s meeting, she and others will use community feedback to create a model to present to city leaders. She said it was critical they have community input before presenting a plan for further review. Toney said hiring new positions under the new model could happen as early as late summer or early fall.“I think this is a huge step in the right direction. The initial program will be a pilot phase, so we’ll look at it and then we will assess and see what’s working well and where we need to improve,” Toney said.The meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

Winston-Salem city leaders are holding a community input session Thursday to discuss ways to improve police response to calls related to mental health emergencies.

“The public is invited to come and weigh in on this process,” said assistant city manager Patrice Toney ahead of the meeting. “As we hear the community’s input around this, we try to create programs and opportunities that make sense.”

Toney, who oversees police, fire and emergency management in her role, said her team began exploring options to present to the public safety committee about a year ago after hearing concerns about law enforcement’s ability to respond to people in a mental health emergency.

Toney said the city has already begun collecting and analyzing data to better understand the kinds of calls that could benefit from an alternative response and areas of the community where mental health-related calls are most frequent. The Research Triangle Institute collected that data, she said.

Lt. John Morris, of the Winston-Salem Police Department, said he thought the idea to expand the resources available to officers during a mental health call could be a positive tool for the department, adding other agencies are often at a scene already during an emergency.

“Our job as law enforcement is to look at every aspect of the call we’re going to,” he said. “We work with other agencies all the time, whether it’s EMS, whether it’s fire or adult protective services, child protective services. We work really in conjunction with a lot of agencies where they actually come to the scene.”

“Someone with that training, we could bring them in, in a safe environment — safety is always paramount — we could better help a citizen going through that crisis,” Morris said.

Morris encouraged community members to share their thoughts about ways the department could best serve its citizens.

“To best serve the community, we need to hear from the community,” Morris said.

Toney said following Thursday’s meeting, she and others will use community feedback to create a model to present to city leaders. She said it was critical they have community input before presenting a plan for further review. Toney said hiring new positions under the new model could happen as early as late summer or early fall.

“I think this is a huge step in the right direction. The initial program will be a pilot phase, so we’ll look at it and then we will assess and see what’s working well and where we need to improve,” Toney said.

The meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

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