The North Carolina Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners are sponsoring technical assistance sessions to provide assistance on three American Rescue Plan funding solutions that address both criminal justice reform and COVID-19 related mitigation and behavioral health needs.
This session will focus on responding more appropriately to calls for emergency service, specifically those concerning mental illness, autism, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse, homelessness, and other non-emergency situations. The expert panelists will detail how American Rescue Plan funding offers an opportunity for local governments to implement crisis response teams, co-responder teams, and alternate responder models to respond to calls for service.
Background: Emergency Response
In December 2020, The North Carolina Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC) issued a report with 125 recommendations aimed at making our state’s criminal justice system fairer, safer, and more effective for all North Carolinians. TREC continues to work with stakeholders like the NCACC to implement these recommendations. Each week, TREC will highlight a recommendation that local government leaders can implement to improve public safety in their communities.
Law enforcement officers are often called to address issues that they receive little training in and are outside the core of their expertise. Some of these calls may involve criminal behavior, but often the root is crisis, not criminality. People call 911 when a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, when they see a person on the street who appears to be impaired by drugs or alcohol, and when they see someone in need asking for money or going through trash cans. Responding to individuals in crisis is not the core purpose of law enforcement, and others, such as social workers, receive extensive training on how to respond to these situations.
Local governments across North Carolina are implementing new programs to more appropriately respond to calls for emergency service, specifically those concerning mental illness, autism, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse, homelessness, and other non-emergency situations. These programs include dispatching officer teams specially-trained in crisis response, co-responder teams where a sworn officer responds to a crisis with a social worker, or alternative responses where EMS or non-sworn social workers respond.
When TREC surveyed law enforcement leaders earlier this year, we learned that more than 30 jurisdictions employ some form of specialized crisis response. These programs range in age from Chapel Hill, whose co-responder program began nearly 50 years ago, to the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, which hopes to launch a co-responder program in the coming months.
We all want to live in safe, healthy communities, and these crisis response programs can drastically improve public safety. Unburdening officers from crisis response while sending more appropriate personnel to more effectively bring community members out of crisis will allow sworn officers to focus on violent crime.
If you have questions about crisis response models, please email [email protected].