Allegheny County joins Harvard program developing alternative responses to 911 calls

‘Sending the best-suited responder to 911 calls will result in better outcomes and better care for all of our residents and ensures that behavioral health supports are provided to those in need,’ Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said

By: - August 21, 2022 6:30 am
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By Jordana Rosenfeld

Allegheny County will participate in a Harvard University initiative implementing “alternative responses to nonviolent 9-1-1 calls,” county officials have announced.

Allegheny County is one of four municipalities chosen “from a highly competitive applicant pool” to participate in the 2022-2023 Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab Alternative 9-1-1 Emergency Response Implementation Cohort, according to a county release.

“Nationally, jurisdictions are testing new approaches to address resident service needs that reduce reliance on traditional law enforcement and medical 911 responses and create more equitable outcomes for communities of color and others disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system,” according to the Kennedy School website. “Despite a growing consensus among jurisdictions that alternatives to 911 response are needed, many are struggling to invest in implementation efforts that can sustain the impact of these innovative changes.”

According to a news release, the program is “designed to support leaders in implementing alternative responses to nonviolent 9-1-1 calls and will provide targeted technical assistance to the county.”

“Sending the best-suited responder to 9-1-1 calls will result in better outcomes and better care for all of our residents and ensures that behavioral health supports are provided to those in need,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

“Alternative response is one of the ways we are working to reduce unintended harms and avoidable incarceration for people with behavioral health needs, while also connecting them to follow-up care,” county Human Services Director Erin Dalton added.  “We will start small and learn from this pilot while continuing to grow and improve formal and informal services throughout our behavioral health system.”

The Alternative 9-1-1 Emergency Response Implementation Cohort “helps participants develop unarmed emergency response teams that reduce reliance on traditional law enforcement by connecting residents in need of mental and behavioral health services to the appropriate support,” according to the news release.

The Harvard program also “provides jurisdictions with technical assistance to accelerate and enhance the implementation of alternative 9-1-1 responses. This may include tracking 9-1-1 call volume, creating training curricula for response teams, designing 911 call decision trees, preparing community briefing materials, and assisting with procuring services from local providers.”

The release also noted that this opportunity is an advancement of local work to improve crisis response efforts already in progress.

The Kennedy School said the 2022-2023 cohort will also include Chicago, Ill.; San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments in California; and Washington, D.C.

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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