Dayton to use mediation response for some nonviolent 911 calls

Dayton plans to launch its new way of responding with unarmed mediators to minor, nonviolent issues by spring.

The new 911 mediation response program could grow to handle about 4% to 5% of police calls for service in the city, reducing interactions between law enforcement and residents that have the potential to escalate.

The pilot program, which was recommended by a city police reform committee, also seeks to address underlying causes of conflict between parties in disputes, which police officers usually don’t have the time or training to do, officials said, and it should free up police to focus on higher priority public safety issues.

“Alternative response is the place that we can have the most transformation,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said. “But the key is doing it, and then figuring out where we’re missing, because we’re going to miss some places.”

Dispatchers on average receives about 157 calls to 911 per week in Dayton that are appropriate for a new mediation response team to handle, said Dan Kornfield, founder of Dignity Best Practices and the project manager the city hired to oversee implementation.

Additionally, mediation responders could follow up on other types of calls after police respond and make contact, and potentially they could be dispatched at the same time as officers for some calls for service.

Types of calls for service include juvenile concerns, noise complaints, neighbor disputes, barking dogs, panhandling, roommate troubles, partying, family arguments and loitering.

Mediation would help in many of these situations, because it can address and resolve underlying sources of conflict, which Kornfield said hopefully will lead to fewer issues and calls in the future.

Mediation staff should have more time than police usually do to listen to both sides and connect people to services that can help, he said.

Kornfield said hopefully mediation response will give officers more down time between serious crisis calls and more opportunities to focus on serious crime and crime-prevention strategies.

Under the proposed pilot program, some 911 calls will be transferred to a special call-taker who will determine if a mediation response is appropriate.

If mediation field team members are dispatched, their first priority after arriving on scene will be to determine the safety of the situation and if police should be summoned, he said.

Police will be dispatched when credible threats or safety risks exist and when dispatchers determine that the people involved or the location have had a history of violence, Kornfield said.

Police, fire and mediation will be on the same radio network and will be able to call each other to a scene quickly when needed, he said.

The pilot program will have a five-person team: a team leader, a call-taker, two field responders and a case manager who will follow-up with people.

The program will start with one shift, likely between 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on week days, but the goal is to eventually add teams and expand to provide around-the-clock coverage.

The pilot program is expected to launch in March.

To start with, the mediation team is expected to cover around 58 calls per week (2% of all police calls), but that would increase with more teams and staff.

Other communities across the nation have implemented alternative-response programs that send mental health experts and social workers instead of armed officers to calls involving people struggling with mental illness, drug addition, homelessness and other nonviolent crises.

Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services hopes to soon launch a mobile crisis response team that handles such issues.

But police and city officials say this mediation response model is a new concept.

“It is our belief that we are one of the first to pilot an alternative response for nonviolent, nonemergent, and non-mental health related 911 calls,” said Erin Ritter, Dayton’s human services manager.

The pilot program will be included in next year’s budget and should cost about $646,000, Ritter said, and the city expects to post the job positions in the next few weeks.

Dignity Best Practices and city staff have completed some of the protocols for how mediation calls will be routed through the 911 system.

Officials say they need to design the training, and training and equipment purchases are expected to begin in January.

“If we do it right, it is such a change in thought for our community and for our staff,” Whaley said.

Mediation response staff need the right temperament, judgment and training, including in cultural competency so workers effectively and respectfully interact with people of all backgrounds, said officials and people involved in the police reform process.

“We do know that culture matters, gender matters, race matters, class matters,” said Shannon Isom, co-lead of the community engagement police reform group, which recommended the city adopt a new alternative-response model. “What we want to do is build this right the first time, and we think we have to — again — be intentional.”

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