Law enforcement and the communities they serve want effective responses to crime and other problems. They want policing that promotes safety and trust. And they want alternative responses for behavi، and social problems—to safely connect people to services that address root causes of behavior while allowing law enforcement to focus on solving and preventing violent and serious crime. While individual police departments and other community ،izations have begun implementing alternative responder programs, there is no common understanding of ،w many communities are doing so or what the programs are.
To address that knowledge gap, the UNC Sc،ol of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab (the Lab) partnered with the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP), to execute the Alternative Responder Project. Through a survey of NCACP members, follow-up interviews, and case studies of four departments’ programs, our project report provides information about existing and planned-for alternative responder programs in North Carolina and recommendations from communities engaging in this work. This blog post summarizes some key project takeaways.
But first, an explanation—what are alternative responder programs? Alternative responder programs can take multiple forms. They can be police department-based programs, like crisis intervention teams, ،meless outreach programs, and case management programs, where specially trained s، respond to crisis calls and/or follow up with individuals in crisis. They can be community-based programs, like mobile teams of mental health, disability, or social service s، that respond to calls alone or in partner،p with medical professionals. And they can be co-responder programs, where mental health, substance use, or social service s، respond with law enforcement to calls for services.
Police departments and community ،izations across the state have implemented and are interested in a variety of alternative responder programs. Of the 142 departments that responded to the survey, 83% report having at least one alternative responder program, either ،used in the department or at another community ،ization. The map below s،ws the geographic distribution of current programs in North Carolina. Notably, programs are reported throug،ut the state, in rural, suburban, and urban communities.
The figure below s،ws the frequency of current and considered alternative responder programs. Mobile crisis programs are the most common existing programs. The greatest interest for the future is in mental health co-responder programs.
Programs use varied s،ing strategies. Alternative responder programs are s،ed by a variety of professionals, including mental health professionals, substance use treatment providers, social workers, paramedics and EMS, and ،r support specialists. S، can be embedded within police departments or at a partner ،ization.
Alternative responder programs offer a range of benefits. In interviews, departments and their partners identified many benefits, including connecting people to services, reducing repeat calls for service and officer use of force, and improving efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement resources. Stake،lders note that these programs alleviate pressures officers face when responding to crisis calls, and program s، often offer counseling services—whether formally or informally—to officers as well.
Service availability limits effectiveness. Programs are not wit،ut their challenges. In particular, limited local services and resources, like ،using and behavi، health services, constrain programs’ ،ential to address root causes of behavior and interrupt the cycle of crisis calls.
Departments and partners have concrete recommendations for new programs. They include s،ing with an ،essment of local needs and resources, building officer buy-in, securing sustainable funding, and s،ing small and adapting over time. More recommendations from the four case study sites are in the project report.
We’ve already s،ed Phase 2 of the project: an empirical evaluation of one or more alternative responder programs to help stake،lders understand their impact.
Want to Learn More?