Coalition Pushing Cleveland to Adopt "Care Response Model" for Non-Violent Emergency Calls

It would send behavioral and mental health professionals to non-violent emergency calls for those experiencing crises instead of armed police

While a "co-responder" pilot program exists, advocates say more should be done - Courtesy city of Cleveland
Courtesy city of Cleveland
While a "co-responder" pilot program exists, advocates say more should be done

Cuyahoga County Care Response Coalition, a mental health advocacy group, is working to bring a “care response model” to the Cleveland. A care response model would send unarmed behavioral and mental health professionals to those experiencing crises or homelessness and provide medical and mental health care and access to services and shelter.

As Scene reported last year, a "co-responder" pilot program exists in the Cleveland Division of Police and, according to the administration, showed early signs of success.

Per the CDP's mid-year 2022 budget report, the Division has 80 officers who are trained as "Specialized [Crisis Intervention Team] officers" who handle the majority of the calls from those dealing with mental or behavioral health crises. Of that number, five are paired with social workers — these are the "co-responders" — to handle a variety of calls, including from "high utilizers" (repeat callers) in each of Cleveland's five police districts.

But the coalition says that a full "care response" model should be adopted.

“If somebody has a heart attack, you don't send the police,” said Piet van Lier, a senior researcher at Policy Matters Ohio. “So, if somebody has a mental health crisis, or just needs services and support or compassion, you don't necessarily send police who are not necessarily the best-trained people, and they don't have the resources and the knowledge to help folks in the way that they need to be helped.”

The coalition is comprised of representatives from Policy Matters Ohio; Magnolia Clubhouse; the Center for Community Solutions, Responding with Empathy, Access, and Community Healing (REACH); Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) and the Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC).

On May 18, members visited Cincinnati’s Alternative Response to Crisis (ARC) program with government representatives and law enforcement officials. The pilot program, which was started in July of 2022, has saved roughly 3,000 hours of police time addressing nearly 650 incidents.

If a situation is deemed a “low-risk crisis,” like one requiring a welfare check, ARC dispatches an ARC Response Team made up of a behavioral health specialist and a paramedic. In situations requiring police, officers who have been trained in crisis intervention are dispatched with a mobile crisis team.

Although the coalition was able to visit ARC in person, van Lier says they’ve also met virtually with similar programs in cities like St. Petersburg and Baltimore.

“We're looking at other cities and what's happening there. Basically, the need is to take police out of the work of responding to people in crisis,” said van Lier. “If it's truly a nonviolent, vulnerable situation, rather than criminalize behavior, it's a way to support and find ways to help people rather than punish them.”

Representatives from the coalition will be sharing recommendations with the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board on Wednesday.

“Our overarching recommendation is that for both the city and the county that we do a pilot program here,” van Lier said. “Right now a lot of times [when] the police show up, it can escalate a situation that otherwise might be resolved peaceably, connecting people with resources, even sometimes just giving a blanket and some water or helping them get to where they need to be.”


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