This “Field Notes for Law Enforcement” focuses on the rationale for implementing a 911 dispatch diversion program, as well as its features, implementation, and an example of a successful 911 dispatch diversion program.
This is an effort by jurisdictions to reduce unnecessary police contacts by connecting people to mental health professionals when someone contacts 911 in cases of a behavioral health crisis or other health or social service need. Such 911 dispatch diversion varies across the country. For some communities, clinicians are involved with dispatch centers with resources for responding to behavioral health crisis phone calls to non-police responders. As “988” is due to be implemented in 2022 as the nationwide national mental health crisis and suicide prevention phone number, jurisdictions must also develop protocols for transferring 911 calls to 988 for telephone support and referral to emergency services. Implementing 911 dispatch diversion can help communities conserve public safety resources and reduce reliance on police. Dispatchers facilitate a response that helps link the person to services or treatment. Embedded clinicians can also help glean information from callers, such as psychiatric history treatment compliance, current medications, or symptoms. Tips for successful implementation of such a system are 1) determine which approach to 911 dispatch diversion is a good fit; 2) identify which calls will be eligible for diversion; 3) provide training for dispatchers and clinicians; and 4) use data to assess the program’s performance and make improvements. The example provided for a successful such program is the Houston Police Department, which implemented its program in 2015.
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