As organizers and city officials work toward creating a non-police emergency response program in Cleveland, they’re learning from established programs in other cities and applying for grants to fund a program locally.
Cleveland city officials and a coalition of local organizers last week heard from representatives from St. Petersburg, Fla., about their Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program – where social workers respond to crisis calls without police.
Members of the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, the St. Petersburg social service organization that provides the social workers, met virtually with local leaders to explain how they implemented their program and the results so far.
Cleveland leaders are learning about St. Petersburg’s and other cities’ programs as they work on a proposal for a local non-police response program, which they’re calling care response.
Here’s how crisis response is changing in Cleveland
Cleveland City Council voted last week to expand the city’s police co-response program, which would double the amount of teams going out to mental health crisis calls.
Learning from experience
Led by Policy Matters Ohio and REACH (Responding with Empathy, Access and Community Healing), the coalition made up of Cleveland-area organizations advocating for more crisis response options, planned the meeting with the St. Petersburg officials.
The coalition plans to get a small group to visit Cincinnati to learn about its non-police response program. They are also working on setting up a virtual meeting with Baltimore’s police department as they did with St. Petersburg, said Elaine Schleiffer, co-founder of REACH.
The St. Petersburg program started in 2020 as a co-response program – a social worker responds to calls alongside a police officer. The CALL program gradually phased out the police officers. By May 2021, the CALL team began responding in pairs to crisis calls, only asking police to respond if they need additional help on scene.
Cleveland already has a co-response program and is working to build it from five teams to 10 now that City Council has approved American Rescue Plan Act funding for the expansion.
Care response could take two years
Cleveland Public Health Director Dr. David Margolius said the city health department is applying for grants to help fund a care response program. Their next step is to hire someone to work directly with public safety and health officials to build the program.
Launching a care response program could take at least two years, Margolius said. He wasn’t able to attend the Thursday meeting but talked with organizers about what was discussed.
While city leaders are still figuring out what that program will look like, Margolius said he is sure some form of non-police response will exist in Cleveland in the next few years.
Schleiffer, with REACH, said Thursday’s meeting helped Cleveland officials better understand what still needs to be done.
“Conversations like this are really the groundwork to help people understand how these [care response] programs work, who the stakeholders are, how to build it, what we need to be learning and doing,” Schleiffer said. “And so this is a really important step forward on that journey.”