NEW HAVEN, CT – On Tuesday, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, Community Services Administrator Dr. Mehul Dalal, Project Fresh Start Coordinator Carlos Sosa-Lombardo, Police Chief Otoniel Reyes, Fire Chief John Alston, City Staff, and community partners hosted a press conference at City Hall announcing the launch of a process to create a Community Crisis Response Team. In response to the New Haven Police Department fielding thousands of calls for service during the year, the Community Crisis Response Team program will be aimed at providing a more holistic approach to certain service calls that may not require Police. The vision for the mobile crisis intervention unit is that it will be made up of teams with expertise in harm reduction, mental health, substance use, and other social supports that will be dispatched to appropriate calls through the 9-1-1 call center. Mayor Elicker and others unveiled the vision for the crisis response team, the process the City has begun to undertake to create this group and outlined other details of the program goals at the press conference.
“Our goal with the Mobile Crisis Response Team is to ensure the people with the right expertise and skills respond to the right calls. Currently, our Police Officers are often required to respond to many calls that might be better suited for someone with other expertise such as mental health or substance use. The vision for the mobile crisis response team is to respond to lower acuity calls so Police can focus on violence prevention,” stated New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker. “Our Police Department is working hard to ensure public safety in our community, but we must be more thoughtful about what it means to keep our community safe. The Mobile Crisis Response Teams are intended to reduce the strains on our Police Department and improve the outcomes of 911 calls,” he concluded.
The proposal calls for the creation of mobile crisis intervention units that will be dispatched through the 9-1-1 call center. These units will be staffed by a social worker, nurse, or EMT to field service calls to lower acuity situations. The City of New Haven has learned from other programs in the country that have worked well in emphasizing de-escalation, harm reduction, and connection to City services. These findings from similar programs will assist the City in uniquely implementing a plan for the context of social issues in New Haven.
One program that the City learned from was called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS) program implemented by the White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon. CAHOOTS relies on effective communication, trauma-informed care, and harm reduction. The goal of this program was not to fix an issue, but rather to connect the person in need with immediate services from the City. CAHOOTS also aimed at emergency room diversion and jail diversion for individuals. Early estimates of the CAHOOTS program indicate it saves Eugene, Oregon, about $8.5M annually. Another program, Denver Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), was spearheaded by the Denver Justice Project, and also aims at re-envisioning police response in the community. The STAR program was actually based on Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS, and launched on June 1 or this year. STAR specifically diverts some 9-1-1 calls from the police department to mental health services by re-envisioning public safety using harm reduction models.
“There are so many ways in which the Community Crisis Response Team can help alleviate the calls for service to our first responders,” stated Community Services Administrator Dr. Mehul Dalal. “We have learned from many municipalities and local governments different ways to address issues residents are facing, but without impacting our limited resources,” he concluded.
The City’s vision is to implement the creation of the Mobile Crisis Response Teams in three phases. There will be a planning phase of approximately six months. During the planning phase, we will collect community and stakeholder input, and establish a strong collaboration with relevant city agencies and service providers to implement the program. During the first phase, we will pilot the program on a smaller scale, potentially with limited hours of service and geographic limitations within the City. The subsequent phases will scale up operations until the third phase, where the City hopes to implement a 24/7 service provision covering the whole City.
“Connecting residents to critical services in the City will greatly improve the work we do at City Hall,” said Fresh Start Coordinator Carlos Sosa-Lombardo. “Working directly with the reentry community has its challenges because many are caught up in a vicious cycle that leads them back to jail or prison. This program will seek to break that cycle. Having a program in place to link residents with services during the moment of a crisis is a step in the right direction to re-envision how local government serves our residents,” he concluded.