Durham City leaders plan to have mental health professionals with police for some 911 calls

DURHAM, NC (WNCN) – The City of Durham is set to have a mental health professional accompany a police officer on certain 911 calls. On Monday, the city council approved the grant for the program.

Ryan Smith, director of the city’s Community Safety Department, said the Durham Police Department and its department can now officially begin planning.

As part of the program, three mental health professionals will be hired. Smith said two of them would make calls with officers trained in the Crisis Response Team. A third person would assess 911 calls as part of a crisis call diversion program included in the grant.

“We do this to better meet the needs of residents in crisis by recognizing that the diversity of reasons people call 911 also warrants and necessitates that we have a diversity of responder types and models that we try to respond to. those needs,” Smith said.

Smith said the co-response program is part of a larger effort to rethink who shows up when someone calls 911. It’s separate from Durham’s initiative to have unarmed responders respond to nonviolent appeals.

“Part of that is so that we can make sure – whatever the risk involved in a situation – that we are able to send the right personnel,” he said.

The city received $492,239 in federal grants, with a local match of $356,098. Smith said the local match would come from the city and whoever the city contracts with to provide clinicians under the grant.

According to the Department of Community Safety, 14% of all calls are eligible for co-response, or 1,431 calls per month. Smith said an example would be a suicide threat call where the person has a weapon.

“It’s a situation that would be really appropriate for a co-response because a weapon is present and in a person’s hand there’s a level, a level of risk there, that we wouldn’t feel comfortable sending unarmed responders,” he said. “This is also a situation where a crisis call diversion could be helpful.”

CBS 17 has contacted the Durham Police Department to discuss the program and is awaiting a response. Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews sent a letter to the citywhich says in part:

“The purpose of the Connect and Protect program is to support collaboration between law enforcement and behavioral health systems to improve public safety responses and outcomes for people with mental illness. (IM) and Concurrent Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Problems (CMISA).”

Smith said the crisis call diversion program is expected to begin this summer and co-response teams will likely roll out in the fall.

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