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911 Dispatch Diversion

911 dispatch diversion, sometimes called crisis call diversion, varies across the country. For some communities, this means embedding clinicians in their dispatch centers who can respond to behavioral health crisis calls over the phone and resolve the issue through crisis counseling, needs assessment, or referral to ongoing services. Other jurisdictions are diverting some 911 crisis calls to non-law enforcement responders such as community responder programs, mobile crisis teams, or local crisis lines. And as 988 is implemented as the national mental health crisis and suicide prevention number, jurisdictions must also develop protocols for transferring 911 calls to 988 for telephone support and referral to services. 

For more information on this intervention, see this resource: 

Local Examples

Philadelphia, PA

  • Since September 2020, Philadelphia has embedded behavioral health navigators at PoliceRadio (911).
  • The navigators observe and serve as consultants, providing education and support to 911 call-takers and dispatchers. They also host monthly Lunch & Learns with 911 staff to educate and help build rapport and trust.
  • The embedded navigators will soon take behavioral health-related calls transferred directly from 911 that do not involve a public safety risk or an active crime. The behavioral health navigators will be trained as part of the Philadelphia Crisis Line (soon-to-be 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) staff and will be able to dispatch mobile crisis teams as needed.

Houston, TX Houston Police Department

  • The Houston Police Department implemented their Crisis Call Diversion (CCD) program in 2015 in response to a steady increase of mental health crisis calls to 911.
  • Working with the Houston Emergency Center and the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, the police department determined that a high percentage of these calls could be more effectively resolved by quickly connecting callers to mental health professionals rather than dispatching police officers or emergency medical services (EMS) personnel.
  • CCD now includes the Houston Fire Department (which joined the collaboration in 2017) and uses embedded professional telecounselors within the 911 call center to help link people to non-emergency services when a call does not require police or EMS.
  • In 2020 alone, CCD diverted 2,116 calls from the Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department and the program resulted in an estimated $1,666,732 annual savings to first responders.

Tucson, AZ Tucson Police Department

  • Crisis line staff are embedded within 911 dispatch to divert appropriate calls to the crisis line.
  • Data show that 80 percent of calls can be resolved over the phone. Of the remaining calls, the majority are resolved by a mobile crisis team in the community.
Type

Program

Measures

1 - Reduce bookings into jail
3 - Increase connection to treatment
4 - Reduce recidivism