PHILADELPHIA — The City announced today it has taken the first step to begin building out its 911 Triage and Co-Responder Program, designed to connect residents experiencing behavioral health crises to the timely support they need. This month, a behavioral health specialist from the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) was embedded into Police Radio for the first time in the City’s history.

Once fully operational, this new program will assist Philadelphians calling 911 through one of two ways:

  • Formation of a “triage desk” located at 911 Radio Control and Dispatch offices to better identify and triage behavioral health crisis calls to 911 and from patrol officers.
  • A planned expansion of the co-responder program is underway to provide a unique and tailored response to 911 calls and requests from patrol officers. The full implementation is expected to be complete in November.

Under the new program, when behavioral health crisis calls come into dispatch from police radio, embedded clinical staff will work alongside dispatchers to determine the most appropriate response for these calls. Once established, the triage desk will also take calls from patrol and district officers when they encounter a situation in the community that requires behavioral health intervention.

“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.” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “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.”

“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.” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “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.”

“The 911 Triage and Co-Responder Program is a win for the people of Philadelphia and for the Police Department,” DBHIDS Acting Commissioner Jill Bowen said. “It will connect people experiencing mental illness and/or addiction to the behavioral health system when they most desperately need care, and it frees City Police from that duty, allowing them to better serve and protect residents. We are pleased to partner with law enforcement in this important initiative.”

The City has already seen promising results from its existing outreach co-responder model launched in April of 2019. It pairs behavioral health outreach workers with the East Service Detail to develop health-centered resolutions to quality of life-related issues throughout the East Police Division. This year, the outreach co-responder pilot has engaged with approximately 450 individuals, making over 150 real-time connections to services without making any arrests.

About the Co-Responder Model
Cities and counties across the country are increasingly adopting the promising co-responder model to improve how they engage with people experiencing behavioral health crises. Co-responder models vary in practice, but generally involve law enforcement and clinicians working together in response to calls for service involving a person experiencing a behavioral  health crisis. The model provides law enforcement with appropriate alternatives to arrest as well as additional options to respond to non-criminal calls. Communities and local leaders can use the model to develop a crisis continuum of care that results in the reduction of harm, arrests, and use of jails and emergency departments and that promotes the development of and access to quality mental and substance use disorder treatment and services. (Source: RESPONDING TO INDIVIDUALS IN BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CRISIS VIA CO-RESPONDER MODELS: The Roles of Cities, Counties, Law Enforcement, and Providers, Policy Research, Inc. and National League of Cities)

Planning for the implementation of Philadelphia’s 911 Triage & Co-Responder Program has been underway since early 2019. This effort is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Police Department, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, and the Managing Director’s Office of Criminal Justice and it supports the City’s Pathways to Reform, Transformation, and Reconciliation police and public safety reform efforts.