Mental health professionals take 911 calls in Tempe


The partnership began in February, helping people who have called 911 and are experiencing a mental health crisis.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Nearly two months since the Tempe Police Department partnered with mental health professionals to divert some 911 calls, the department said it is seeing positive results.

Beginning in February, if a nonviolent, suicidal Tempe resident called 911, they were transferred to speak with a mental health professional from Solari Crisis and Human Services.

A dedicated professional also works 20 hours a week side-by-side with dispatchers to help transfer other mental health-related calls.

“It’s proven to be pretty effective,” said Heather Brennan, a department dispatcher for 10 years. “So far we have been able to divert many calls.”

With the new partnership, she said more people are getting proper help when they call in an emergency, instead of getting an agent response which in the past hasn’t been the best resource for their needs.

Tempe police said they estimate 65 calls have been redirected to crisis teams since the partnership began, but they believe the exact total number is higher.

It’s a good sign that dispatchers have this tool to better divert calls to mental health professionals in situations where an agent might not be needed, said Tonya Logan, office communications manager.

“It’s the possibility of one less involved officer… happening,” she added. “So for me, it’s victory.”

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Logan said there have been a few issues since the program was rolled out. Sometimes officers still have to report to the scene due to security concerns for crisis teams and because they are dealing with staffing shortages.

“If we hijack a call and a call was successful, that just marks success because a year ago today we didn’t have that resource,” she said.

“The heart of public safety”

Regardless of the situation or type of emergency, dispatchers are the front line of “first responders”.

“They are central to public safety,” Logan said. “The burden they carry every day, and sometimes without a moment to pause between distress calls.”

Dispatchers are tasked with assessing, interpreting and relaying information quickly, accurately and calmly, even defusing the crisis over the phone, said Carlena Orosco, acting crime analyst at Tempe PD.

It’s because of their vital role in handling people’s “most critical situations” that the partnership is better at identifying calls needing mental health experts than police officers, Orosco said.

“So that it is resolved in a more comprehensive and definitive way and that everyone receives the services they need,” she added.

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Orosco is currently working on new techniques and procedures to incorporate new skills when diverting calls and triage resources, to ensure they are congruent and work together to meet the needs of those who may be experiencing a crisis. Mental Health.

Tempe Police dispatchers also handle non-emergency calls.

“When you realize that you are central and the voice of comfort, that means a lot,” Brennan said.

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