Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New Report Outlines How Cities Can Effectively Dispatch Community Responder Teams to 911 Calls
Press Release

RELEASE: New Report Outlines How Cities Can Effectively Dispatch Community Responder Teams to 911 Calls

Washington, D.C. — U.S. cities typically rely on police as the default responders to a wide range of 911 calls for low-risk situations that involve conflict resolution, behavioral health, homelessness, service needs, or quality-of-life concerns. This practice diverts resources away from serious and violent crime while neglecting many of the underlying social needs that drive people to call 911 to begin with. Some cities are addressing these issues by dispatching community responder teams to low-risk 911 calls instead of police.

A new report from the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), the Center for American Progress, and the Policing Project at NYU School of Law offers recommendations on how cities can adapt their 911 dispatch policies and practices to better integrate community responder teams. This report compares three principal models cities are using for community responder dispatch, answers frequently asked questions, and shares lessons learned. 

“City officials often ask us how their 911 center can dispatch community responder teams,” said Amos Irwin, program director at LEAP and report co-author. “This report dives into the weeds to show how existing teams are dispatched and how cities can maximize their impact.”

“Community responder programs are able to address urgent community needs, connect people to long-term care, and improve overall public safety,” said Rachael Eisenberg, managing director of Rights and Justice at CAP and co-author of the report. “Now more than ever, cities nationwide have an opportunity to cement the role of the community responder in the broader public safety ecosystem, and getting dispatch right is key to achieving that goal.”

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Cities use three principal models for dispatching community responders: 911 call center-led dispatch, embedded professional-led dispatch, and external hotline-led dispatch—each with its own set of benefits and challenges.
  • Cities can use any of these models successfully, although each requires that they hire sufficient staff, develop clear protocols, and involve the 911 call center and other key experts in program design and training.
  • Some community responder programs limit themselves to a small percentage of eligible calls because they do not handle police call types, third-person callers, or conflict resolution calls without a clear behavioral health nexus. Programs across the country have challenged these limitations and are showing success.
  • Community responder programs can safely handle low-risk call types through call screening based on standard disqualifiers developed in partnership with the 911 call center.
  • Engaging with community leaders and directly affected individuals early and often during the development and implementation of a community responder program improves the way the changes in 911 policies are received.

“Police want to make sure community responder teams can be dispatched to calls efficiently and safely,” explained retired Lt. Diane Goldstein, executive director of LEAP. “This report outlines how 911 centers fit together with community responders to help relieve the burden on law enforcement.”

“911 call takers and dispatchers play a crucial role in ensuring that people who call 911 get connected to the help they need,” said Alexander Heaton, director of reimagining public safety at the Policing Project at NYU Law. “As cities begin to adopt community responder programs into their plans to create public safety, it is critical that these exciting new innovations are thoughtfully incorporated into emergency communications systems to ensure they reach those most in need. This report will empower cities to create systems and policies that do just that.”

Read the report:Dispatching Community Responders to 911 Calls” by Amos Irwin of LEAP and Rachael Eisenberg, with support from the Policing Project at NYU School of Law

Read the fact sheet: Dispatching Community Responders to 911 Calls by Amos Irwin of LEAP and Rachael Eisenberg, with support from the Policing Project at NYU School of Law

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Julia Cusick at jcusick@americanprogress.org or Noah Walker at Noah@LawEnforcementAction.org.

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