City officials continue talks on alternative response models

City officials continue talks on alternative response models
May 12
12:26 2021

Earlier this week city officials continued talks about the implementation of an alternative response model to address 911 calls that involve individuals dealing with mental health issues. 

Here’s what we know: Winston-Salem is one of seven cities in N.C. and S.C. participating in a cohort that’s looking at alternative responses to mental health calls. Since launching the study, Research Triangle Institute, International (RTI), a nonprofit organization that provides research and technical services, has analyzed more than 500,000 calls in Winston-Salem to help identify the need for a response model and decide which model would fit best in this community. In later phases of the cohort, city officials will have the opportunity to implement a pilot program based on one of the alternative models. 

One of the alternative models calls for a co-response, where both police and a mental health professional respond to calls. The other model, which is referred to as the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) model, calls for mental health professionals to respond alone, but they can still call on law enforcement as needed. 

Research provided on the CAHOOTS model, which was first adopted in Eugene, Ore. in 1989, shows that in 2019, between 5% and 8% of all calls were diverted and the department has saved an estimated $8.5 million.

In recent years, several other cities across the country have transitioned to the Co-Response or CAHOOTS model, including Greensboro, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Several cities have also adopted “Civilian Response” opportunities that divert “non-urgent” calls that may not need law enforcement. RTI project director, Brian Aagaard, said the idea behind the cohort is that there can be shared information across communities on the different alternative response models. “Not everyone is going to implement pilots that are the same,” Aagaard said during the virtual Public Safety Committee meeting. 

“We’re hoping by scanning across all the cohorts of cities, we’ll be able to understand which of these practices can be brought to scale for the future.”

According to data collected by RTI, between Sept. 1, 2017, and Aug. 31, 2020, out of 578,338 total calls, 9,445 were mental health calls, but Aagaard said that is an “undercount.”

“While that represents just under 2% of calls in Winston-Salem, we suspect that if we had a more sensitive definition and a better way to document calls related to mental health, we’ll have a better understanding.” 

RTI is expected to release a full report on the findings from the cohort later this month and a list of recommended alternative response models should be available later this summer.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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