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Ohio city seeks to pair more social workers with police for mental health calls

Under the program is paired up with a Cleveland police officer who is trained in crisis intervention


Cleveland police cruiser

Olivia Mitchell/TNS

By Courtney Astolfi

CLEVELAND — Cleveland is preparing to double the number of social workers who team up with specially-trained police to handle some mental health calls.

With City Council approval this week, Mayor Justin Bibb received the OK to strike a new contract to provide what’s known as a co-response model of policing, in partnership with the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County .

The co-response model isn’t new to Cleveland, but the new agreement with the ADAMHS board will allow more people to benefit from it.

Public Health Director Dr. David Margolius said the city is excited for the expansion because co-response offers a better solution for people experiencing mental health crises.

Five two-person co-response teams have been serving Cleveland since early 2020 as part of a grant-funded pilot project. One team is currently assigned to each of the city’s five police districts, usually working afternoons and evenings, city records show.

Mayor Justin Bibb and City Council last year sought to expand those services using $5 million in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act. The extra cash will allow the city to staff a second team at each of the five districts. They’ll be working different shifts than the current teams, which means co-response will be available to respond to police calls for several more hours out of the day.

Under the program, a social worker, from Murtis Taylor or Frontline Services, is paired up with a police officer who is trained in crisis intervention.

Rather than sending traditional police to some calls involving mental health crises, the teams are deployed in hopes of deescalating the situation. They seek to connect the individual to social support services, rather than jailing them, or taking them to an emergency room for treatment.

The looming contract with the ADAMHS board will cover all 10 teams for the next three years, at an expected cost of $4.5 million. City Council this week also gave approval to buy 10 SUVs for the teams to use.

City officials say they aim to get the new personnel hired, trained and out on the streets sometime next year.

When Cleveland sought providers for its co-response expansion earlier this year, the ADAMHS Board and Recovery Resources were the only organizations that responded. Public Safety Chief Karrie Howard this week indicated that the ADAMHS Board was the right choice, in part, because of its previous experience working with the city on co-response.

On top of this expansion, Bibb is also exploring what a care-response model could look like in Cleveland . Care-response is when only social workers – and no police officers – respond to emergency calls that would otherwise be handled by police.

Senior Strategist Angela Cecys is heading up that work for City Hall ; her salary is also covered by the federal aid set aside for crisis response. Bibb hired her in June to help the city coordinate these new, alternate modes of emergency response.

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