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St. Louis mental health diversion programs helped residents and saved the city $2.6M

Social worker Randall Richardson and St. Louis police officer Nicholas Jones in a screenshot of a February 17, 2022 press conference talking about two mental health diversion programs that have saved the city an estimated $2.6 million since they launched last year.
Screenshot / Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Randall Richardson, left, a social worker with St. Louis' Cops and Clinicians program, says bringing "humanness" to the job helps him connect with people experiencing a mental health crisis. He's shown Thursday in a press conference screenshot with police officer Nicholas Jones.

Two programs that work to keep St. Louis residents experiencing mental health crises out of the judicial system appear to be saving the city money.

Both Cops and Clinicians and a 911 diversion program began operating full time in January 2021, although the city had previously run a small pilot of the first initiative, which sends social workers along with police officers to certain calls. The second diversion program routes certain 911 calls to a mental health crisis hotline run by Behavioral Health Response.

The 5,000 calls diverted are a fraction of what the city receives in a year. But a review donated by Mastercard found that the two programs combined may have saved the city $2.6 million in the first eight months of operation, mostly in personnel costs in the police department and EMS.

Mayor Tishaura Jones, a strong proponent of diversion programs, said the benefits to the city go beyond monetary savings.

“Someone experiencing a mental health crisis does not need to come in contact with the police, or get thrown in jail,” she said. "That doesn’t make our neighborhoods safer.”

Mastercard, which donated the data analysis using its Test and Learn tools, also found that most callers who were directed to the crisis hotline did not need to call 911 again. In addition, most were able to avoid hospitalization for mental health needs.

Randall Robertson, one of the social workers known colloquially as the “purple shirts,” said it was satisfying to be able to connect people struggling with mental illness to the help they need.

“Bringing your humanness to the job is going to enable you to deal with whatever you gotta deal with,” he said. “Because it’s one human interacting with another.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.