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City leaders announce crisis response pilot program for mental health emergency calls

Posted at 11:54 AM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 11:54:44-04

CINCINNATI — On Thursday morning, Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval and other city leaders announced a new pilot program aimed at providing unarmed mental health responders to Cincinnati's 911 system.

Starting in July, the Alternative Response pilot will send a new response team for non-violent and mental health crises, according to a press release from Pureval.

“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,” said Pureval.

A new response team will be formed and comprised of one licensed behavioral health clinician and one paramedic. The pilot program will run for six months, responding for 911 calls that involve a lower-risk issue related to mental health, depression, homelessness or substance abuse when officials determine that a police officer is not needed.

"They will provide clinical de-escalation, medical assessment, crisis intervention, transportation, connections to community resources and basic needs like food and clothing," reads the press release.

While the Crisis Response Team is responding, they will still remain in contact with dispatchers in case police officers are needed to respond later.

Currently in Cincinnati, 911 call-takers in the dispatch center direct calls to police, parking enforcement or the fire department; police are currently the default party dispatched for calls that don't fit the other departments, like mental health crises, the press release said.

"I'm excited and very supportive of this program," said Teresa Theetge, interim police chief for the Cincinnati Police Department. "It will free up police resources while still making sure the citizens' needs are met."

In addition to the creation of the Crisis Response Team, Pureval announced on Thursday that the city would partner with Talbert House to make callers available for mental health calls.

The pilot program will be monitored and city leaders said they plan to use data gleaned from the team's response to better understand the needs of 911 callers experiencing a mental health crisis moving forward.

"This pilot program will help us understand that any response program that takes police out of situation for which they are not the best responder is great," said Iris Roley, city collaborative agreement consultant. "It reduces the chances of unintended violence to citizens and to officers."

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