Dayton could send ‘mediation responders’ to 911 calls

A proposed pilot program in Dayton could pioneer a new way of responding to some types of 911 calls for police service that involve lower-level disputes and conflict.

A consultant has recommended that Dayton hire, train and deploy new mediation center staff to respond to certain kinds of service calls that do not require an armed police officer.

A new alternative response model was one of the recommendations of a Dayton police reform committee, and communities across the nation have adopted programs that seek to reduce interactions between law enforcement and citizens dealing with issues like mental health, addiction and homelessness.

But Dayton could create a first-of-its-kind mediation responder program focused on low-level and nonviolent conflict, like neighbor disputes and juvenile disturbances, according to a recent report by the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which the city hired to help develop recommendations for an alterative response model.

“Employing mediation-trained responders could be a critical asset in saving police resources, effectively de-escalating conflict, resolving long-standing conflicts through referral to mediation and other services, and preventing negative or even dangerous altercations between officers and community members,” the partnership’s report states.

Dayton Deputy City Manager Joe Parlette said the city, the community and law enforcement agree that everyone could benefit from an alternative response program.

“We’re absolutely moving in that direction, and we’re encouraged by the work that’s been done already and we look forward to what the final product and recommendation might look like,” he said.

But some community members say a new program needs to ensure that police officers respond when appropriate and when requested by citizens.

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership earlier this summer produced a report that recommends Dayton create a new mediation responder program.

The nonprofit group also recommended the city work with Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) on its proposed countywide mobile crisis team program, which will focus on mental health and addiction issues.

A third recommendation calls for expanding a new telephone reporting unit that accepts some low-level reports over the phone so that officers do not need to be dispatched to the scene.

In 2019, about 10,000 police calls for service in Dayton could have been handled by mediation responders, according to the partnership, and the new program could grow to handle 17,000 additional calls.

Dayton police received about 190,000 calls for service that year, and many were related to quality-of-life issues and low-priority incidents that do not require an armed officer, which wastes public safety resources, the nonprofit said.

Unlike alternative response programs in other communities that primarily focus on mental health, Dayton’s program could be unique by using mediation expertise to address minor conflict, potentially like noise complaints, public arguments, neighbor disputes and other events that do carry a significant threat of violence.

In 2019, Dayton police received about 2,000 calls for noise complaints, 1,675 for juvenile disturbances, 850 for neighbor disputes, 570 for barking dogs and 105 for roommate troubles, the partnership’s report states.

The city hired the Law Enforcement Action Partnership to provide recommendations and a plan for an alternative response program.

Dignity Best Practices was hired to be a project manager to oversee implementation of the project.

Dayton officials say the city has not determined how its alternative response program will work, but Dignity Best Practices has created a proposed a timeline for getting a mediation responder program up and running.

Next steps would include getting a budget approved and hiring a coordinator to be the program’s main team leader, which could happen in September or October, said Dan Kornfield, founder of Dignity Best Practices.

Kornfield said job postings for three new field positions could occur in the next two months, and new 911 protocols could be developed for the regional dispatch center.

After that, possibly in November and December, Dignity Best Practices would help develop field protocols, training and performance metrics, Kornfield said, and team members could start work and undergo training in January or February.

Team members could hit the streets in March or April, he said.

Niki Van Kirk, a member of a police reform implementation group, said she is concerned about 911 dispatch protocols and thinks citizens should be able to request officers instead of mediation responders.

“If I am asking for police, I think police should respond,” she said, later adding, “I don’t think it should be dispatch deciding, ‘Well who do we send?’”

She also said she also feels like the police reform implementation group has only learned about some decisions about the alternative response program after they were already made.

Youssef Elzein, another member of the implementation group, said the city’s proposed mediation responder program does not seem to closely match the police reform committee’s recommended model.

He said the committee studied models that were heavily concentrated on mental health.

Erin Ritter, Dayton’s human services manager, said ADAMHS already is pursuing a mobile crisis response team for the entire county focused on mental health, and Dayton’s consultants do not think the city should duplicate efforts.

Precisely how the program could work has not been determined, but concerns about under what circumstances mediation responders should be dispatched will be carefully considered and citizens would need to be educated about their options for service, consultants said.

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