Mayor Aftab Pureval, who is surrounded by, from left, Councilmember Scotty Johnson, Interim Police Chief Teresa Theetge, Collaborative Agreement Consultant Iris Roley, Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Assistant City Manager Sheryl Long, Emergency Communications Center Director Bill Vedra, Assistant Health Commissioner Dr. Maryse Amin, Assistant Health Commissioner and Talbert House President/CEO Neil Tilow, announces plan for Crisis Response Team pilot for behavioral health calls. Photo provided

Helena Battipaglia

City of Cincinnati

Alongside City leaders, health experts and public safety advocates, Mayor Aftab Pureval last week announced an innovative Crisis Response Team pilot program. This six-month program will provide unarmed mental health responders to Cincinnati’s 911 system for non-violent and mental health crises.

 “With this program, we are pushing past the status quo to make sure that those in need of urgent help get the kind of help they need, and that our police officers’ time and resources are spent keeping Cincinnatians safe from violence,” Pureval said.

The Alternative Response Pilot will create a new response team comprised of one licensed Behavioral Health Clinician and one paramedic. When a 911 call involves a lower-risk problem related to mental health, depression, homelessness, or substance abuse, and it is determined that an officer is not required, the situation will be eligible for this team to respond. They will provide clinical de-escalation, medical assessment, crisis intervention, transportation, connections to community resources, and basic needs like food and clothing. Throughout the response, the team will remain in constant contact with police dispatchers should the need for a police response arise.

“Despite good intentions on the part of 911 to get help to someone, sometimes the wrong type of help can cause a situation to escalate unnecessarily,” Emergency Communications Center Director Bill Vedra said. “This will be an enormous step in the right direction with a new resource that will help 911 and help callers in crisis.”

Currently, City 911 call takers most commonly direct calls to our police, our fire department, or parking enforcement. When none of these three options are a good fit, our police are the default response to calls. However, there are callers who can best be helped by an additional resource: trained, licensed mental health professionals. The data proves this, and our communities have been asking for this service.

 “I’m excited and very supportive of this program,” Interim Police Chief Teresa Theetge said. “It will free up police resources, while still making sure the citizens’ needs are met.”

“This is what problem solving looks like,” City Collaborative Agreement Consultant, Iris Roley said.  This requires deep-rooted conversations in response to community…it addresses the community’s request to review best practices and calls for service, and making this EC Center the best in the country.”

In addition to this team’s creation, the City is partnering with Talbert House to make callers available to take mental health calls.

As the pilot program progresses, City leaders remain committed to using the data to better understand the needs of 911 callers.

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