Columbus sees early win in alternative 911 response teams

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A six-week pilot program aimed at reimagining police response to 911 callers suffering from mental health and addiction issues in Columbus yielded promising results, city officials announced Thursday.

Data collected over a span of 72 operation hours showed more than 60% of the calls received did not require immediate police or fire dispatch, Mayor Andrew Ginther’s office said in a release.

Nearly half of those calls were either fully resolved by the group of mental health professionals and dispatchers or were redirected to local community services.

The experiment, which started in June, imbedded a “triage pod,” of paramedics, public health clinicians and dispatchers to review the best response to non-emergency 911 calls.

“What this program so clearly demonstrates is the need to strengthen and diversify our front-line responses so that police officers can focus on what they were always intended to do: address violent crime and keep our neighborhoods safe,” Ginther said.

For calls requiring a police response, the city said the pod actively worked with officers to provide de-escalation and information prior to arrival to the scene to “help ensure a successful outcome.”

Plans to expand the program’s hours of operation and build additional units are underway.