AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin 911 operators have successfully diverted thousands of calls to crisis clinicians as part of a program to better address mental health calls, according to a memo from Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon.

APD’s Emergency Communications Center developed the Mental Health Crisis Call Diversion (CCD) program in 2019, in collaboration with Austin-Travis County Integral Care.

Last year, 82% of calls with a mental health crisis component were “diverted,” meaning clinicians were able to help the caller without the need to send a police officer.

The CCD program focuses on diverting mental health calls to a Center Crisis Clinician (C3), when appropriate. According to Chacon’s memo, the goal of the program is to approach mental health calls from a treatment perspective, rather than from a criminal justice system perspective.

“People experiencing a mental health crisis have better outcomes when they receive the special care they need,” Chacon said. “The C3 provides callers with complete triage screenings, assists with de-escalation of crisis, completes safety planning, dispatches Integral Care’s crisis teams, and provides other community referrals as necessary.”

The city also added mental health services as a fourth option when someone calls 911 — beyond police, fire or medical services — in February 2021, becoming the first Emergency Communications Center in North America to do so.

The CCD program currently has 16 clinicians, supported by a manager, two team leads and an advanced nurse practitioner. At least one clinician is available 24 hours a day, and up to three are available to receive calls during peak hours.

If the caller refuses C3 assistance or demands to speak with a police officer, they are sent back to a 911 operator, who then creates a call for service for police response.