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October 09, 2020

Philly embeds behavioral health specialist in 911 call center

Mayor Kenny says initiative is part of broader police reform

Behavioral Health Emergencies
911 behavioral health Oleg Magni/

A behavioral health specialist embedded in Philadelphia's 911 apparatus will provide triage and co-responder service to better help residents experiencing mental health crises.

A behavioral health specialist is now helping Philadelphia's 911 call center respond to crises involving a mental health disturbance. 

Beginning this month, the city embedded a specialist from the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services as part of a new program designed to connect residents to the most appropriate assistance.

"The goal of the program is to safely deflect individuals with behavioral health needs away from the justice system and into more appropriate behavioral health care or social services in the community," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "We are focused on taking action, adopting and implementing a comprehensive police reform agenda, to make real changes that allow us to build a more equitable and safe city for all Philadelphians."

The new program will help city residents who call 911 in two ways:

A triage desk located at 911 Radio Control and dispatch offices will better identify and triage behavioral health crisis calls.

Secondly, a co-responder program will provide a tailored response to 911 calls and requests from patrol officers encountering behavioral health crises. The full implementation is expected to be complete in November.

Moving forward, clinical staff will work with dispatchers to determine the most appropriate response or intervention to behavioral health crisis calls from police radio or patrol and district officers. 

Cities and counties across the country have increasingly begun adopting a co-responder model in order to better position resources and personnel best-equipped to handle behavioral health crises.

"Embedding DBHIDS staff to work alongside our 911 dispatchers will significantly improve our ability to determine the most appropriate response for behavioral health crisis calls," Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. "This announcement is an initial step to ensure supported interactions involving people in behavioral health crisis, as well as an opportunity to refine services between first responders and the citizens we serve."