City’s Person in Crisis team will replace police on some calls 

click to enlarge Alia Henton-Williams serves as the coordinator for the city of Rochester's Office of Crisis Intervention Services.


Alia Henton-Williams serves as the coordinator for the city of Rochester's Office of Crisis Intervention Services.

The city of Rochester has officially launched its Person in Crisis (PIC) team, a corps of social workers which will be available to respond to mental health and substance abuse calls that would otherwise be fielded by police.

The PIC Team consists of 14 full and part-time workers who will respond in teams of two to crisis calls around the clock, every day of the week. The decision whether to send the team without police, or in tandem with officers, will be made by 911 and 211 dispatchers according to the nature of the call. Generally, the team would respond alone if a behavioral issue was at play, no crime was being committed, and no weapon was involved.

The team is housed under the Office of Crisis Intervention Services inside the Department of Recreation and Human Services. The city’s Homicide Response Team, Family and Crisis Intervention Team (FACIT), and the Victim Assistance Unit are part of the same office.

“What we’re launching here today is the only alternative first responder team ever sanctioned as a formal link in the public safety chain in our region,” Department of Recreation and Human Services Commissioner Daniele Lyman-Torres said during a news conference Thursday.

City officials began putting together the PIC Team, in September. The move followed the release of a video showing a March incident where Rochester police officers restrained Daniel Prude, who was naked, already handcuffed, and clearly distressed, when he went unconscious and stopped breathing.

Prude was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital where he later died. The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office listed his cause of death as “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delerium due to acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.”

In December, the city entered into a one-year, $25,000 consulting contract with Eugene, Oregon’s White Bird Clinic to provide technical support and guidance for the team. The White Bird Clinic founded, CAHOOTS, one of the country’s first response teams intended to provide an alternative to police. It has helped Seattle and Portland, Oregon develop similar programs.

“The tragic death of Daniel Prude served as a catalyst for creating thoughtful and important demands for change,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “I’ve stood before you on several occasions acknowledging the flaws and failures that exist in our current system, and we are ready to change them.”

The team will be funded through a $1 million grant from the state’s Office of Victim Services, as well as $350,000 from a contingency fund, which was city officials created in June by halving the Rochester Police Department’s recruit class.

Alia Henton-Williams serves as the lead coordinator of Rochester’s crisis response teams, and will lead the PIC Team.

“The PIC team can serve to connect people with behavioral issues to the services and supports they need to survive and thrive,” Henton-Williams said.

The PIC team was to begin taking calls Thursday afternoon.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].
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