As municipalities begin to shift away from dispatching armed officers to certain types of community issues, several promising alternative response models have emerged. These strategies aim to better align residents’ needs with non-police professionals who are trained and resourced to address their concerns more meaningfully.
Below are alternative responder models we have observed in the field. Click on each to learn more.
Many alternative response programs focus on addressing substance use and mental health issues by deploying behavioral health specialists, such as mental health clinicians or social workers. These practitioners either accompany officers or respond in lieu of them (often paired with a paramedic), using their professional background to stabilize individuals in crisis and connect them with appropriate support and services to address underlying issues.
Many police departments employ community service officers (CSOs), or non-sworn professionals who respond to non-emergent community issues and needs such as traffic collisions, vandalism, special events, and report taking. They are typically unarmed and, unlike police officers, rarely empowered to make arrests or use force. Some departments that already utilize CSOs are evaluating their current responsibilities and adding additional call types to their duties.
Many 911 calls are made to report disputes or complaints between residents that are not necessarily related to a true public safety emergency, such as noise complaints or the perceived misuse of public space. Addressing these inter-personal and inter-communal conflicts with professionals trained in mediation and conflict resolution is a new and exciting area of alternative first response that jurisdictions are beginning to explore.
Peer responders – sometimes referred to as peer specialists or credible messengers – are individuals who share lived experience with the people they serve, having confronted personal challenges often related to substance use, mental health, homelessness, or incarceration. Because of their personal histories, peer responders can support and connect with individuals in ways that are deeply meaningful and likely inaccessible to providers lacking shared experiences. This quality can make peer responders an invaluable presence on alternative responder teams.