DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The City of Durham will start to dispatch unarmed mental health professionals to some 911 calls this week. The city believes they are the first in the state to launch such a team.

The city’s Community Safety Department aims to enhance community safety through community-centered approaches. The city said the department has three primary functions:

  • Piloting new response models for 911 calls for service
  • Collaborating with community members to identify additional approaches to public safety
  • Managing and evaluating existing contracts and external partnerships intended to advance public safety

This week, three new crisis response pilots will debut in the city under the Community Safety Department. Those pilots will send unarmed responders to situations where someone is experiencing a nonviolent behavioral or mental health crisis.

The overall goal of these pilots are to connect citizens with the right kind of care.

The new crisis response pilots are:

  1. Crisis Call Diversion (CCD): CCD embeds mental health Clinicians in Durham’s 911 call center. 
  2. Community Response Teams (CRT): CRT dispatches unarmed three-person teams as first responders to non-violent behavioral health and quality of life calls for service.
  3. Care Navigation (CN): Care Navigators follow up with people within 48 hours of meeting with a first responders to help connect to the community-based care they need and want.   
  4. Co-Response (CoR): CoR pairs Clinicians with Police Officers to respond to behavioral health calls for service that pose a greater potential safety risk. This pilot won’t launch until later this year.

The teams will operate under the umbrella of HEART, an acronym for Holistic Empathetic Assistance. As CBS 17’s Crystal Price has reported, the team was been a year in the making. The three-person community response team will be made up of a clinician, a peer support specialist and an EMT.

The types of calls these unarmed responders will respond to include suicide threats, mental health crisis, trespassing, welfare checks, intoxicated persons, prostitution and public indecency.

“What we have done is we have identified the specific call types that will be appropriate for these responses,” John Zimmerman, operations administrator for Durham’s community safety department, told CBS 17 last week.

The team will only be sent to nonviolent calls. If a situation escalates, Zimmerman said the responders will be able to call for backup on the radio.

Ryan Smith, director of the community safety department said that the team would work Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Smith said they would only covering eight police beats. Other areas will be added when seven more workers come on board later this summer.