School of Social Work partners on new Louisville pilot program to deflect some 911 calls to non-police responders

Mayor Greg Fischer today joined partners from Spalding University’s School of Social Work, the University of Louisville and Seven Counties Services on Wednesday to announce plans for a pilot program to deflect a number of 911 calls to a non-police response “focused on problem-solving, de-escalation and referral to appropriate community services.”

The pilot, recommended in a report from the UofL ’s Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky (CIK), will initially be limited to crisis intervention 911 calls from LMPD’s Fourth Division. It is the product of research and collaboration by the partners, including the School of Social Work, in the Diversion Options: Voice and Empowerment (DOVE) Delegates, announced in May. The recommended pilot involves establishing:

  •  A Behavioral Health Hub, with health crisis interventionists integrated in the MetroSafe 911 call center. Call takers would direct certain crisis intervention calls to a trained interventionist, who would help further triage the crisis to determine whether it could be de-escalated over the phone, if the person in crisis would benefit from a mobile response, or if the scenario called for an LMPD response due to safety concerns. Their mission would be “to assist persons in crisis and first responders by providing empathy, connection, de-escalation, and linkage to the right-sized care,” the report says.
  • A mobile response unit consisting of trained crisis interventionists to “rapidly respond, effectively screen and assist persons in crisis in accessing the appropriate level of care.”
  • A 24-hour “community respite center,” a fully staffed safe place where individuals can stay for up to 24 hours when connected by the mobile response team. There, qualified mental health and substance use professionals will provide evaluations and connect individuals to needed services and resources, beyond what the mobile response team can provide onsite.

*Overview | BSSW | MSW | DSW
*Faculty bios
*Related: School of Social Work collaborating on 911 alternative response model

The research team recommended the pilot be centered in LMPD’s Fourth Division because of its high number of Crisis Intervention-related calls, an average of 11.63 events each day.

“Our team has been grateful for the opportunity to partner with the community to build a better way of addressing a public health crisis,” said Susan Buchino, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences and Assistance Director of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky. “Our research has allowed us to examine what other communities have done, while being intentional about listening to the unique needs of our own community. The one thing emphasized by other cities is that it is best to start small, learn from the community what’s working and what needs to change, and then refine the process before scaling it.”

Now that the report has been shared, the Mayor said, UofL, Seven Counties Services and other partners will begin to work to implement the plan, with UofL’s stated goal of beginning the pilot in December.

In announcing a nearly $5 million investment in deflection and diversion programs as part of the FY22 budget, Mayor Fischer noted that “some situations are best served by a social service response, particularly when dealing with people living with  homelessness, mental health challenges or substance use.”

Today, he said, “By quadrupling our investment in violence prevention and capacity-building programs, including in deflection and diversion, we are acting on our shared goal of creating a safe city with fewer arrests and less incarceration for those who qualify for alternative programs. I appreciate the hard work of the University team to move us closer to that goal.”

Louisville Metro Government contracted with CIK to draft the report and to give recommendations on implementation of the pilot, as part of Mayor Fischer’s plan for reimagining public safety with an emphasis on the whole-of-government and whole-of-city approach.

In its Alternative Responder Model report recommending and outlining the pilot model, the UofL team acknowledged the national debate around public safety, and cites “a pattern in which law enforcement has become a default response in crisis calls, even when the crisis may be a civil issue or one best resolved by health care or social services.

“Even the officers themselves – in Louisville and elsewhere – admit they are asked to do too much, often without the best tools for serving the person in crisis, especially when it is a behavioral health need,” the report continues.

The report is the result of seven months of study by CIK and a multidisciplinary team consisting of the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities; Spalding’s School of Social Work; Seven Counties Services (SCS); and community members, charged with assessing the feasibility and development of an alternative response model that appropriately meets the need of Louisville’s residents.

“Spalding’s School of Social Work is proud to be involved in this vital, community-focused work to develop a deflection and diversion model for Louisville,” said Dr. Shannon Cambron, Chair of the Spalding University School of Social Work. “This is a critical moment for our community. We have a unique opportunity to finally get this right, to stop doing the same thing yet expecting something different. These issues are generations in the making, and addressing them is not short-term work. By starting small and strategically scaling up, by centering the work in the community and empowering the community to hold us accountable, long-term solutions are not only possible but probable and sustainable.”

“As the region’s leading provider of mental health services, Seven Counties Services is well positioned for this community partnership to help our neighbors in crisis who need mental health treatment or other social services as opposed to a police response,” said Abby Drane, President & CEO of Seven Counties Services / Bellewood & Brooklawn. “We are hopeful that this deflection program will best serve our neighbors and aid in the effort to modernize public safety for the Louisville Metro area. This plan will provide a more streamlined path to critical services for those with a mental health or addiction crisis.”

Their work included a review of police deflection activities in other U.S. communities; a series of interviews and focus groups with community members, behavioral health providers, and Metro Government leaders, as well as observations of Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) responses to 911 calls that could potentially be deflected and activities in the MetroSafe 911 Call Center, and an extensive review of MetroSafe 911 data.

The team also engaged with a Community Advisory/Accountability Board, which has met routinely since April to provide oversight and recommendations to the team’s research and planning – and effort to enhance community ownership and sustainability for the new program.

The report stresses that continual evaluation of the program is key, and that expansion beyond the pilot phase should occur “in phases that allow researchers to evaluate implementation and outcome and identify areas of improvement and success.”