Louisville's Crisis Call Diversion Program for some 911 responses has expanded citywide
Louisville's Crisis Call Diversion Program, which sends mental health professionals to some 911 calls involving people experiencing non-violent behavioral crises, has now expanded citywide to all eight Louisville Metro Police divisions, officials said Tuesday.
The city, assisted by recommendations from the University of Louisville, announced the crisis diversion pilot in 2021 and then launched it last March, sending a mobile response team of trained mental health responders with Seven Counties Services alongside or instead of a uniformed police officer to some 911 calls as part of the "deflection" model.
Dispatchers continue to send LMPD officers and other needed emergency responders to calls that carry a risk of violence, have weapons present or involve medical emergencies.
The pilot began in LMPD's Fourth Division, which covers an area including Smoketown, Old Louisville, South Louisville, the state fairgrounds and Churchill Downs. It began with one shift, seven days a week, and the First, Second and Third divisions were added as capacity improved, according to a U of L report released last summer.
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Since its launch, the program has handled about 1,200 calls and helped over 600 people receive crisis support and referrals without LMPD involvement, relieving police officers of over 345 hours of time they might have spent on those calls, Mayor Craig Greenberg said Tuesday during a news conference inside Metro Hall.
Now in all eight police divisions, the program will operate daily from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., with Seven Counties Services aiming to hire more people to expand the hours of operation.
"Many individuals often think that the hospital is their path, but we know that Louisville has many other resources ... and we want to try and help people connect to all of the possibilities in the community as well as their natural supports," Jean Romano, vice president of adult services for Seven Counties Services, said.
Romano recalled a situation from early on in the pilot program in which a man called 911 to report what he thought was the sound of gunshots, but he was actually "having a PTSD response."
Mental health professionals were able to get the man an appointment at the Veterans Affairs Hospital and connected to a family member who offered "a safe place for him to stay," Romano said.
LMPD Sgt. Pam Oberhausen, the department's Crisis Intervention Team coordinator, said her first "deflection run" involved a woman with PTSD who barricaded herself in her apartment. Police responded, talked with her and called the mental health responders, who spoke with her over the phone to set up services such as therapy, Oberhausen said.
After leaving the woman in the care of the deflection team, Oberhausen said she and other officers responded right away to an armed robbery in progress. Having the deflection team help the woman in need freed up the officers to go quickly to the robbery scene to try to catch a suspect, Oberhausen explained.
"It's an invaluable resource to help people," Oberhausen added.
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Dr. Craig Blakely, dean of the University of Louisville's School of Public Health and Information Sciences, called the one-year anniversary of the program's launch a "milestone achievement."
As U of L continues to evaluate the program and release more reports this year, the city's ultimate vision is to have a 24-hour-a-day crisis response team, but Greenberg and others acknowledged reaching that point could take a significant amount of time and money.
Greenberg said he will ask Metro Council for more funding for the Crisis Call Diversion Program in the 2024 fiscal year budget, but he did not share Tuesday a specific dollar amount for the request or an estimate on the cost of expanding the program.
The program began under former Mayor Greg Fischer, whose final budget for the 2023 fiscal year included about $4.5 million for the 911 call diversion effort.
Officials and researchers previously noted Louisville's model combines elements of alternative response programs from across the country and aims to reduce the demands on LMPD, which has a seen a chronic staffing shortage of about 300 sworn officers, and the criminal justice system while reducing criminalization of behavioral health conditions, among other goals.
What did the Department of Justice say about LMPD's response to behavioral health crises?
One part of the U.S. Department of Justice's damning report released earlier in March on the patterns and practices of LMPD and Metro Government from 2016 through 2021 found the city and its police department violate the Americans with Disabilities Act in responses to people with behavioral health disabilities.
The DOJ findings included how:
"LMPD contends that it has adopted a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model to respond to behavioral health crises. Crisis intervention teams can provide a specialized police response to individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis in situations where police presence is needed. But this is not how LMPD’s CIT program works. At LMPD, all officers receive a one-time, 40-hour CIT training, and all officers are considered to be part of the crisis intervention team. LMPD makes no effort to evaluate whether some officers are better suited to this role than others, and it does not evaluate the effectiveness of its CIT program, its training, or officers’ responses to behavioral health crises. LMPD’s approach to CIT has been ineffective in preventing discrimination against people with behavioral health disabilities."
"MetroSafe too often needlessly dispatches police on Behavioral Health calls when law enforcement is not needed."
"Louisville Metro could modify MetroSafe’s policies, procedures and training program and deploy community-based, provider-operated mobile crisis teams to behavioral health calls."
Greenberg noted Tuesday the DOJ's report said the Crisis Call Diversion Program pilot was "a significant start" and the city "could expand its reach and capacity for a behavioral-led response to further prevent discrimination against people with behavioral health disabilities.”
Reach Billy Kobin at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville Crisis Call Diversion Program expands to all LMPD divisions