Building Community-Based Emergency Response System

Justin Levinson & Dawn Milam

Executive Summary

Though police officers are neither medical professionals nor social workers, cities and counties across the country routinely send armed law enforcement officers to respond to emergency calls for help when a person is experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis. This makes as little sense as sending a social worker into a home invasion robbery in progress. Sending law enforcement to respond to mental or behavioral health crises leads to unnecessary arrests and incarceration, and increases the risk of confrontations involving the use of force—and often deadly force.

States and local governments can redistribute funds to better manage these challenges by investing in skilled emergency response corps and crisis workers. Trained professionals, not law enforcement officers, are best positioned to respond to mental and behavioral health emergencies, including crises related to substance use, lack of housing, or inadequate health care. To be successful, these crisis response teams should operate independently of the criminal legal system, include both emergency and preventative services, and be fully funded to accomplish their mission.

In a national poll, we found broad public support for these measures:

  • 68% of likely voters support the creation of non-law enforcement emergency responders programs;
  • 70% of likely voters support a non-police response for when a family member calls 9-1-1 because of a mental health crisis; and
  • 65% of likely voters support a non-police response to a drug overdose.
Building Community-Based Emergency Response System
Building Community-Based Emergency Response System