IN-DEPTH: A look at how Austin 911 dispatchers, officers treat mental health calls with new system

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin 911 dispatchers are the first in our area to offer help for callers who need mental health assistance.

“We want to make sure that service is provided quickly, we wanted to make sure it is provided safely and we want to make sure we are getting the appropriate resources to that call,” said Assistant Chief Richard Guajardo with the Austin Police Department’s emergency communications division.

Dispatchers now greet callers by asking them, “Do you need police, fire, EMS or mental health services?”

The goal is to allow dispatchers to identify a mental health crisis and determine whether the call could be diverted to an alternative non-police response.

Those who choose mental health services will be transferred to a mental health clinician who can better assess the situation.

Integral Care, the county’s mental health authority, handles the mental health-related calls that come into Austin’s 911 center.

If a police officer has to respond, then an officer with mental health training will be sent.

“There is almost always someone who goes out it is almost always handled primarily with a police officer and without any kind of mental health clinician and this is pretty unique,” said Andy Hofmeister, Austin-Travis County EMS assistant chief.

Lt. Ken Murphy with APD says it’s still a work in progress and they are hoping to expand as time goes on.

“Within the next month to two months, we will have enough clinicians trained where we will be able to operate 24/7,” Murphy said.

Since the new option was added there have been about 80 calls for mental health services.

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