COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — Friday, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther along with Columbus Public Health, ADAMH, Columbus Division of Fire and Columbus Division of Police announced an Alternative Response Pilot Program that aims to address the needs of 911 callers for non-emergency incidents.
“Far too often and for too long we’ve asked our police officers to be social workers, medics and health workers,” Mayor Andrew Ginther said.
Starting Monday, A social worker will be embedded in the city’s 9-1-1 dispatch center, looking out for calls that may not require police, fire or EMS.
Many calls that come into the center surround mental health or addiction issues. Columbus police said last year they responded to 22,000 calls involving a mental health crisis.
“Behind that number are people,” Commander Dennis Jeffrey said. “People that are suffering. Not only that individual going through a mental health crisis, but their family is going through that mental health crisis with them.”
When appropriate, trained social workers will be responding to these calls instead of police or fire, connecting people to more resources and services available.
CEO of ADAMH Erika Clark Jones said she only expects these calls to increase.
“The pandemic has only served to amplify the issues that were already here,” Jones said. “We anticipate a 23 percent increase in demand for mental health, addiction and substance abuse services over the next 10 years.”
Social workers say they have seen first-hand the increase in need. Having police respond may not be the answer.
“I have had the ability to work with people during what is often the most challenging times in their lives,” Marian Stuckey, with the Columbus CARE Coalition said. “Times when what is really needed is compassion and someone to bear witness and listen to their experiences.”
The pilot program will last 4-6 weeks. During that time, the data will be studied to decide whether to implement it permanently. Mayor Ginther said he hopes this can also stop some of the violence, allowing officers to focus on violent calls and criminal investigations. Police say often they have to go back to the same home for similar calls.
“I think the biggest part of this is how do we sustain success so fire and police don’t have to go back to that same home?,” Commander Jeffrey said. “We get them to the right place the first time, and that will help everyone. It will make Columbus safer.”
The city also announced a new plan in the works for a mental health center headed by ADAMH. The center will expand services for people struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues. It is expected to open in 2022.