New state law to allow green flashing lights for mental health emergency responses
You may notice green flashing lights this spring on vehicles responding to mental health emergencies in Westchester County.
The governor just signed into a law a bill sponsored by state Sen. Pete Harkcham.
The bill allows mobile response teams, who respond alongside or in place of police but are not always in marked vehicles, to display the green lights.
"Many 911 calls are behavioral health crisis calls, and those calls need a set of skills than necessarily police officers," says Harckham.
This idea was first spearheaded by Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health Deputy Commissioner Joseph Glazer, who helps oversee Westchester's eight mobile response teams that respond to mental health emergency calls.
"How can we get people where they need to be the most safely and expeditiously as possible, and that's really where this idea came from," says Glazer.
The mobile response teams are made up of mental health professionals who offer support to individuals in crisis, provide brief interventions and are dispatched through eight police departments in Westchester County.
Glazer said the teams responded to around 1,000 calls in 2023.
"I think we have been very successful in connecting with people who are in crisis, and part of it is de-escalation," says Glazer. "When somebody is at that tipping point, being able to have a mental health professional there to help and de-escalate and connect them with the services they need."
Drivers who see a vehicle with green flashing lights are requested to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles displaying them, which is different than red flashing lights, which legally requires drivers to yield the right of way.
The new bill will go into effect in May, and cities have the option to opt out of using the green lights.