COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For six weeks, the city of Columbus has been using different responses to emergency calls over issues such as addiction or mental health, all through a pilot program called the Alternative Response Project.
“Instead of just automatically sending police or fire like we had in the past, is there more that can be done from a social work standpoint,” Columbus Police Cmd. Dennis Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey said the project uses a triage pod made up of a social worker, a paramedic, and an emergency dispatcher.
They all work to determine if a social worker or mental health professional would be better suited to handle a 911 call about issues like suicide prevention or substance abuse.
According to Columbus, during the pilot, there was a 62 percent decrease in the number of calls requiring a response from law enforcement, while 48 percent were fully resolved over the phone or redirected to other community resources.
“We’re going to expand the triage pod; we’re going to add a second commission,” Jeffrey said, doubling the program’s staff and expanding the program’s hours from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
This expansion is also benefitting other public safety services like Columbus’ firefighters.
“When you’re tied up on some of these lower acuity calls, and you’re not the right resource, you’re not available for that higher acuity call,” said Captain Matt Parrish with Columbus Division of Fire.
Parrish said this initiative is also helping with the department’s response times when it comes to handling fires or physical trauma, while still getting the community the resources they need for other social issues.
“We still get the resources to the scene, but we don’t have two big fire trucks, couple of police cars, seven or eight personnel, for one individual that a team of two or three could manage,” Parrish said.
Columbus Public Safety said it plans to involve more entities including Franklin County Public Health, ADAMH, and other community providers to help respond to non-emergency situations.