Alternative Responses to 911 Mental Health Calls

The city is considering whether to amend its protocol for responding to 911 calls related to mental health issues. Currently the Police Department dispatches patrol officers to respond to these calls.

Advocates say that sending police officers to mental health calls can escalate a situation because those experiencing a mental health crisis may not be able to comply with police officers due to their mental state. A different way of responding, they say, would save money and reduce instances of citation, arrest, use of force and incarceration.

Since the fall of 2020 the city has been collaborating with RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, to analyze 911 call data and develop recommendations for improving responses by law enforcement and other first responder agencies to mental health calls for service. 

It should be noted that no change in procedure is contemplated when a 911 mental health call presents a threat of violence. Police will respond to these calls in all instances.

However, for 911 mental health calls that are non-violent in nature, there are two predominant models for a different way to respond. One model, called the alternative model, has a team of mental health professionals respond to the call. The other model is called the co-response model and pairs a police officer with a mental health professional to respond, with the metal health professional taking the lead.

At least 11 cities in the United States have implemented alternative protocols for responding to mental health calls for service. Most cities use co-response teams. In North Carolina, Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte have implemented the co-response model. 

The RTI study is aimed at determining the need for an alternative response in Winston-Salem and what model would best meet the city’s need. Should the City Council decide to pursue a new response protocol, the city would first conduct a pilot project to assess the new approach.

The city held a public input session April 7 to collect public opinion on changing the city’s protocol 911 for mental health calls. If you were not able to speak at that meeting, use the form below to give us your input.

View the April 7 meeting and make comments below.