BY KRISTIN HUNT
City Council approved a $6.2 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year on Thursday, one which earmarks sizable funds to upgrade Philly’s rec centers, clean up business corridors and offer hiring bonuses for certain city jobs. The budget also provides an extra $3 million for mobile crisis response units, which are currently in the middle of a dramatic transformation sparked by 2020 protests against police brutality.
Mobile crisis response units are designed to decrease police involvement in mental health crises in order to avoid escalations like the killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a bipolar Black man who was shot by police in West Philadelphia on Oct. 26, 2020. Consisting of crisis specialists, peer specialists and medical professionals, these units are dispatched through Philadelphia’s 988 mental crisis hotline — a national number launched last year which has supplanted the old 215-686-4420 regional line.
While these services existed prior to 2020, Wallace’s death sparked a complete overhaul internally nicknamed “Crisis 2.0.” More full-time staffers were hired to provide 24/7 crisis coverage across the city, and crisis line workers were embedded in the 911 radio room to divert calls that do not require a police response back to 988. In the past year and a half, those embedded employees have rerouted roughly 1,200 calls, according to Jill Bowen, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.