COLUMBUS (WCMH) – During a news conference Tuesday previewing highlights of the city’s upcoming budget, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said the Alternative Response Program has been a success.
So what is the program and how is it making a difference in Columbus?
The pilot program, which started in June, is set to receive $5 million in city funding, according to the mayor’s proposed budget.
Under the purview of the Alternative Response Program is the Right Response Unit, which puts social workers and mental health specialists from Columbus Public Health in the room with 911 dispatchers.
Police, fire, and public leaders all say this is supposed to help better determine the proper response for certain types of emergency calls.
Alverta Muhammad is a social worker with Columbus Public Health. She also has a role that brings her inside the city’s 911 emergency communications center.
“Every call’s unique, every call is different,” Muhammad said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of thing when it comes to that.”
As part of the program, she serves as a community crisis clinician, handling certain 911 calls along with a dispatcher and a paramedic.
“It’s a lot of work,” Muhammad said. “It is. So you’re navigating a person’s mental health issues, you’re navigating police issues, you’re navigating fire and you’re trying to get this person to what makes sense for them.”
According to the city’s Department of Public Safety, the pilot program was in service for 72 hours from early June to early July. During that time, the department said there was a 62 percent reduction in the number of calls needing a police response.
“We’ve always done a good job and I think this has allowed us to get to the next step, the next level, to be more effective in how we’re helping the community,” said Columbus Division of Police Commander Dennis Jeffrey.
Unit leaders said while maybe not directly related, the program can help curb the violence plaguing the city because it allows police officers to work more on prevention and community policing.
“Once you realize there’s not a life-threatening urgent response needed, then they can slow things down and a lot of times, they’ve been able to address that callers’ needs and refer them to a community partner and public safety doesn’t need to respond at all,” said Columbus Division of Fire Capt. Matt Parrish.
Project leaders said they will use the next year to collect more data and figure out exactly how many people they will need on the team.