City of Calgary, CPS launch pilot program to divert 911 calls to community resources

The City of Calgary and Calgary Police Service unveiled a program that will divert some 911 calls to 211 instead.

The five-month pilot program aims to find a long-term solution to assist people in distress by using community-based resources instead of a police response.

Calls will be diverted to an appropriate agency for assistance if the caller expresses the need to speak with someone about their mental health, addiction or other resourcing issues when there is no emergency.

The program will also educate Calgary residents when to call 211 instead of 911.

Read more: Alberta announces plan, committee to address EMS system problems

According to CPS, Calgary 911 has seen a 30 per cent increase in calls from citizens asking for advice regarding domestic violence and social disorder over the last 10 years. Social disorder calls involve individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction concerns.

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“This initiative is going to result in better outcomes for Calgarians in crisis by ensuring that our community members are getting connected to the right service at the right time and with the right outcome,” said Robyn Romano, chief executive officer of Distress Centre Calgary, during a media availability on Tuesday.

The call-diversion program is part of a series of programs by the City of Calgary and CPS to improve how and which emergency services respond to calls.

Last June, CPS and the city announced $11.4 million in funding from the CPS budget allocation and the Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF) going to 50 programs and initiatives. According to Supt. Asif Rashid, 28 out of 50 initiatives have been funded by CPS.

Approximately $87,000 has been allocated to the five-month call-diversion program.

Read more: City of Calgary, CPS take ‘first step’ in improving crisis call response with $11.4M announcement

“This is phase one of a multi-phased suite of services that will be rolled out. The Calgary Police Service is fully committed to reimagining how we serve vulnerable Calgarians,” said Rashid during Tuesday’s media availability.

When asked what the subsequent phases will look like, Rashid did not provide details.

“We continue to use this initiative as an evaluative framework to inform subsequent phases of the program. There has been some academic research that brought to light where some of the gaps in crisis service delivery exists within our community. While I don’t have the details about what subsequent phases might look like, this is the first of many phases to come,” he said.

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