City of Baltimore Receives MACo "County Innovations Award" for 9-1-1 Diversion Program

Crest of the City of Baltimore

Brandon M. Scott
Mayor,
Baltimore City
250 City Hall - Baltimore Maryland 21202
(410) 396-3835 - Fax: (410) 576-9425

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

BALTIMORE, MD (Wednesday, December 6, 2023) —Tonight, the City of Baltimore received a County Innovations Award from the Maryland Association of Counties for its 9-1-1 Behavioral Health Diversion program. 

“Upon taking office, I directed our agencies to develop a 9-1-1 Diversion program for behavioral health crises as part of our public health oriented and evidence-based approach to public safety. This is all part of our broader work to overhaul the way we approach public safety in our city, and we are already seeing the positive results,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “I want to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to successfully implement our pilot program and transform Baltimore’s behavioral health landscape. Leaders across the country are realizing that we do not need to and should not be providing a police response to calls that are better – and more appropriately — handled by trained professionals and I am proud to say that Baltimore has been at the forefront of this work.”

This program is designed to match individuals to the most appropriate and available resources when they call for assistance and reduce unnecessary police encounters with people in behavioral health crises. This approach aligns with federal guidance, evolving best practices, and the requirements of the consent decree and demonstrates a commitment to addressing gaps in our public behavioral health system. 9-1-1 Diversion is housed within the city’s emergency response network and was implemented in partnership with Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) and Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (BCRI). 

As part of the program, 9-1-1 call takers identify a call as appropriate for diversion and divert the call from law enforcement to experienced mental health professionals through the 988 helpline. The 988 helpline is available 24/7, 365 days a year and is staffed by mental health clinicians who provide mental health assistance via telephone through de-escalation, crisis aid, and referrals to additional resources. Mobile crisis teams are dispatched to provide in-person aid should the 988 helpline determine that an in-person response is necessary.

“BCRI is thrilled to partner with BPD, the 911 Call Center, and others to ensure that Baltimoreans receive the most appropriate responses to their needs.” said BCRI CEO Johnathan Davis. “The 911 Diversion program connects individuals experiencing behavioral health crises to trained and compassionate mental health professionals and is a true testament to how cross-agency collaboration is the best approach to meet community needs.” 

Baltimore has served as a national leader as a city working to divert certain 9-1-1 calls to community partners and behavioral health specialists since launching its 9-1-1 Behavioral Health Diversion Pilot program in June 2021. Since this work began, over 600 911 calls have been successfully resolved through the 988 helpline and 187 mobile crisis team responses have been activated as part of the initial pilot. Through the data fellows program, housed within the Mayor’s Office of Performance and Innovation, a public facing dashboard was developed and is available for residents to follow progress and impact of the behavioral health diversion program. 

Currently, Baltimore is participating in Harvard Government Performance Lab’s (GPL) Alternative 911 Emergency Response Implementation 2023-2024 Cohort. The GPL helps participating jurisdictions test and demonstrate methods of developing, improving, and expanding the use of unarmed emergency response teams that can be directly dispatched to 911 calls. Through research support and intensive technical assistance GPL is assisting the program in identifying additional behavioral health call types to recommend for diversion in collaboration with the internal quality assurance working group.  

This diversion pilot program is one aspect of the city’s Behavioral Health Gap Analysis Implementation Plan. The City developed the implementation plan to address the recommendations identified within the Public Behavioral Health System Gap Analysis Report published in 2019. 

The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) is actively working to identify additional 911 call types suitable for diversion to expand the City’s 911 diversion efforts beyond behavioral health calls. 

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