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Alternative Policing Models

Alternative response

An alternative response replaces a traditional police response for certain community issues and 911 call types. Alternative responders generally work in teams of two or more, and are unarmed. Alternative responders may include social workers, behavioral/mental health clinicians, crisis intervention workers, medics, peers, substance abuse specialists, community health workers, mediation response specialists or other civilians trained in report taking and investigations. Call types that alternative responders address may include social services, mental or behavioral health crises that do not involve weapons or crimes in progress, wellness checks, traffic and parking, incidents with individuals experiencing homelessness, property crimes, and car accidents, among other situations. When a call for service meets pre-defined criteria (e.g., no weapon present), non-police practitioners are dispatched as the primary response, and police are only called for backup when necessary. Responders stabilize the situation and connect individuals with necessary services when appropriate.


Co-responder models couple a non-police alternative responder with a police responder. These models vary widely across jurisdictions, though they usually involve at least one police officer and one alternative responder jointly responding to incidents. Usually, these teams are mobile and ride together for a shift. Teams are dispatched to respond immediately to relevant incidents, or are called in as backup after the initial police response. The alternative responder ideally takes the lead in engaging with the individual in need at the scene, and often follows-up to connect the individual with treatment or other follow-on resources. Some jurisdictions also are experimenting with virtual co-response models, in which officers are given iPads to connect with behavioral health specialists or other professionals for assessments and referrals in real time.

Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training

Sometimes called the ‘Memphis Model’ after the department in which it originated, CIT is a 40-hour, specialized curriculum designed to improve police officers’ response to individuals with a mental health difficulty and/or substance use issue, with a particular focus on reducing the risk of serious injury or death. Police departments vary in the share of their officers that are CIT trained.

Industry Terms

911 call-taker

911 call-takers directly answer calls for service, serving as the entry point for citizens’ 911 experience. Call-takers gather information from callers, determine if the call is related to a medical, law enforcement, or fire issue and/or qualifies for an alternative responder. Call-takers utilize Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems to classify and triage caller requests that are then forwarded to emergency dispatchers. Call takers may also be referred to as telecommunicators or operators. In some jurisdictions, the role of call-takers is distinct from that of dispatchers – the person who decides whether to, and sends, the police or an alternative responder (see: 911 dispatcher).

911 dispatcher

911 dispatchers receive information from call-takers and assign calls for service to the appropriate responding entity (e.g., fire, medical, police, or other alternative responders). Dispatchers relay crucial incident information to responding actors, monitor response progress, check on responder safety, and in some municipalities, communicate with callers until units arrive. In some jurisdictions, the role of dispatchers is distinct from that of call-takers (see: 911 call-taker).

Calls for Service (CFS)

Refers to 911 calls requesting emergency assistance to respond to a crisis or community issue. Calls for service often result in the deployment of first responders, such as police, fire, and/or medical professionals. Some CFS record keeping systems also capture proactive police work, such as officer-initiated stops.


Within the first response context, clinicians may include nurses, doctors, mental health specialists, therapists, licensed social workers, or other para-medical staff (e.g., EMS paramedics) deployed to respond to calls for service, typically those involving acute mental or physical health issues.

Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems

CAD systems are technology used by 911 professionals (call-takers, dispatchers, and first responders) to aid in the delivery of emergency services. CAD systems gather essential information during a 911 call, such as a caller’s location, the availability of nearby first responders, and prior calls made to specific locations, in order to deploy first responders in the field. Both call takers and dispatchers have the ability to input narrative information from the caller and about the incident. For an example, if an incident results in a use of force, a CAD narrative can provide context to understand if the force was necessary due to safety concerns or if the situation escalated as a result of officers’ arrival.

First responders

First responders are specialists who are trained to respond to individuals in crisis. First responders may include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, 911 dispatchers and call-takers, or other similar professions. They also include alternative responders.

Mobile crisis teams

Mobile crisis teams are groups of professionals – most typically including social services specialists, medical/mental health staff, peer specialists, and/or police officers – that respond to individuals in crisis as part of a mobile, roving unit.

Peer specialist

Individuals with lived experience (e.g., a history of mental health or substance use issues) trained to support and respond to community members experiencing similar issues.

Social worker

Professional discipline that provides case management, social systems navigation, talk therapy, and other related services designed to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities.