UofL researcher leads development of pilot project to deflect some 911 calls to a non-police response

Alternative Responder Model focuses on de-escalation and referral to appropriate community services
Downtown Louisville

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined partners from the University of Louisville, Seven Counties Services and Spalding University on Oct. 13 to announce plans for a pilot program to deflect a number of 911 calls to a non-police response focused on problem-solving, de-escalation and referral to appropriate community services.

The pilot, recommended in a report from the University of Louisville’s  Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky (CIK), housed in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences, would initially be limited to critical incident 911 calls from LMPD’s Fourth Division. It involves establishing:

  • A Behavioral Health Hub, with health crisis interventionists integrated in the MetroSafe 911 call center. Call takers would direct certain Critical Incident calls to an interventionist, who would help further triage the crisis to determine whether it could be de-escalated over the phone, if the person in crisis would benefit from a mobile response, or if the scenario called for an LMPD response due to safety concerns. Their mission would be “to assist persons in crisis and first responders by providing empathy, connection, de-escalation and linkage to the right-sized care,” the report says.
  • A mobile response unit consisting of trained crisis interventionists to “rapidly respond, effectively screen and assist persons in crisis in accessing the appropriate level of care.”
  • A 24-hour “community respite center,” a fully staffed safe place where individuals can stay for up to 24 hours when connected by the mobile response team. There, qualified mental health and substance use professionals will provide evaluations and connect individuals to needed services and resources, beyond what the mobile response team can provide onsite.

The research team recommended the pilot be centered in LMPD’s Fourth Division because of its high number of what Metro terms Crisis Intervention Team-related events; an average of 11.63 events of this type occur each day.

“Our team has been grateful for the opportunity to partner with the community to build a better way of addressing a public health crisis,” said Susan Buchino, who co-directed the research. “Our research has allowed us to examine what other communities have done, while being intentional about listening to the unique needs of our own community. The one thing emphasized by other cities is that it is best to start small, learn from the community what’s working and what needs to change, and then refine the process before scaling it.” Buchino is assistant professor in UofL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences and assistant director of the CIK.

Now that the report has been shared, Fischer said, UofL, Seven Counties Services and other partners will begin to work to implement the plan, with UofL’s stated goal of beginning the pilot in December 2021.

In announcing a nearly $5 million investment in deflection and diversion programs as part of the FY22 budget, Fischer noted that “some situations are best served by a social service response, particularly when dealing with people living with homelessness, mental health challenges or substance use.”

“By quadrupling our investment in violence prevention and capacity-building programs, including in deflection and diversion, we are acting on our shared goal of creating a safe city with fewer arrests and less incarceration for non-violent offenses,” Fischer said. “I appreciate the hard work of the university team to move us closer to that goal.”

Louisville Metro Government contracted with CIK to draft the report and implement the pilot, as part of a plan for reimagining public safety with an emphasis on the whole-of-government and whole-of-city approach, Fischer said.

In its Alternative Responder Model report recommending and outlining the pilot model, the UofL team acknowledged the national debate around public safety, and cites “a pattern in which law enforcement has become a default response in crisis calls, even when the crisis may be a civil issue or one best resolved by health care or social services.

“Even the officers themselves – in Louisville and elsewhere – admit they are asked to do too much, often without the best tools for serving the person in crisis, especially when it is a behavioral health need,” the report says.

The report is the result of seven months of study by CIK and a multidisciplinary team consisting of the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities; Spalding’s School of Social Work; Seven Counties Services (SCS); and community members, charged with assessing the feasibility and development an alternative response model that appropriately meets the need of Louisville’s residents.

“As the region’s leading provider of mental health services, Seven Counties Services is well positioned for this community partnership to help our neighbors in crisis who need mental health treatment or other social services as opposed to a police response,” said Abby Drane, president and CEO of Seven Counties Services/Bellewood & Brooklawn. “We are hopeful that this deflection program will best serve our neighbors and aid in the effort to modernize public safety for the Louisville Metro area. This plan will provide a more streamlined path to critical services for those with a mental health or addiction crisis.”

Their work included a review of police deflection activities in other U.S. communities; a series of interviews and focus groups with community members, behavioral health providers, and Metro Government leaders, as well as observations of Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) responses to 911 calls that could potentially be deflected and activities in the MetroSafe 911 Call Center, and an extensive review of MetroSafe 911 data.

The team also engaged with a Community Advisory/Accountability Board, which has met routinely since April to provide oversight and recommendations to the team’s research and planning – an effort to enhance community ownership and sustainability for the new program.

The report stresses that continual evaluation of the program is key, and that expansion beyond the pilot phase should occur “in phases that allow researchers to evaluate implementation and outcome and identify areas of improvement and success.”

Source: UofL researcher leads development of pilot project to deflect some 911 calls to a non-police response (UofL News, Oct. 13, 2021)