Tempe City Council approves plan to direct some 911 calls to mental health workers, instead of police

Members of the Tempe City Council have come up with a plan to direct some 911 calls to mental health workers, instead of police.

"What we have seen from our data is that a significant portion of calls to law enforcement relate to behavioral health crises, so we want to give the right tools to these officers to address the situation," said Andrew Erwin with Solari Crisis and Human Services.

The agreement between Solari Crisis and Human Services and the police department, which was passed in a 7-0 vote on the night of Jan. 13, will change how mental health calls are handled, directing these people to the help that they really need.

"One of the things the City of Tempe continues to do is to put us in front of the pack, and really responding to community needs and concerns," said Tempe Mayor Corey Woods.

The plan involve training dispatchers, along with police, on how to respond to mental heath calls. If police are not needed for that particular call, dispatchers will connect the caller to one of the mental health experts. They also hope to expand these services, redirecting calls involving substance abuse anxiety or other mental health issues.

"You're freeing up resources from the law enforcement side, and actually giving callers the service they need," said Erwin.

"As we all know, we are trying to not escalate things to PD matters from time to time, so I think this is a great response, where we are trying to utilize crisis response person to help people in need with mental health issues," said Tempe City Councilmember Joel Navarro.

Councilman Navarro spoke out about the need for this program prior to the vote, explaining that it will help to pave the way forward, changing how mental health calls are both viewed and addressed.

"Having the ability to have someone there with our dispatchers, where they'll be able to have rapport with these individuals if they call 911 again to give them direct help," said Tempe City Councilmember Joel Navarro.

The agreement will cost $75,000 during a one-year contract period.

According to Erwin, similar programs have been very successful so far, and they are expecting the same type of outcome in Tempe.

"Just understandig what types of calls could be transferred over to us, and through that process, we are now seeing over1,000 calls per month, and over 90% of those calls would have resulted in fire or police being dispatched to that scene. Now, we're able to counsel them over the phone. 50% of those calls are able to be resolved without any higher intervention," said Erwin.

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