Calgary police, 911, 211 dial up call diversion plan

Chief Neufeld said it's the first step in a long term call diversion strategy

The Calgary Police Service. LIVEWIRE FILE PHOTO

The Calgary police have partnered with emergency and social services phone lines in a five-month call diversion and co-location effort.

Last June, the City and Calgary police announced funding to improve access to crisis response. Part of that was looking at call diversion to ensure police didn’t have to respond to situations they weren’t ideally equipped to handle.

“We heard directly from Calgarians that we needed to find alternatives to responding to those in crisis. This project is a massive step in the right direction. By working in partnership with The City and local outreach organizations, we’ve been able to create real and long-term change in this area,” said CPS Chief Constable Mark Neufeld, in a prepared release.

“This is just the beginning of a long-term call-diversion strategy for our city.”

During last November’s budget adjustments, Chief Neufeld talked about the overload on Calgary police call volumes. He said they were working on call diversion efforts at that time.

In early January, the first phase of a partnership between Calgary 911, the Calgary police and 211 (social services, mental health, addiction) began. Call takers from 211 were located with 911 call takers at the Whitehorn Multi Services Centre.  They began learning about processes and procedures. 

Beginning Feb. 1, teams will field non-life-threatening and non-criminal calls that might have come to the Calgary police. The intent is to help people who are calling because of mental health, addiction or other resource issues.

These calls will be diverted to areas that are more appropriate to provide assistance, police said. It could include parenting, bullying and housing advice.

Reducing call volumes and getting proper services

This coincides with a Make the Right Call campaign launched in December. That was put together to help educate Calgarians on who to call and when to call them.

The hope is that providing this service will reduce call volumes to 911 and improve crisis response for non-criminal, non-emergency issues, said Acting 911 commander Glenda Sahlen.

“Every year, Calgary 911 answers more than one million calls. This works out to more than 3,000 calls every single day and night, representing a 30 per-cent-increase in call volumes over the last decade,” said Sahlen.

“Many of these calls are from citizens asking for advice regarding non-emergency domestic violence, social disorder and other mental health and addiction inquiries.”

Robyn Romano, CEO of Distress Centre Calgary said that it’s an exciting partnership that should show the transformation of the system. The local 211 system is operated by Distress Centre.

“When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, it can be an urgent and distressing situation but often does not require a 911 response,” Romano said.

“When someone contacts 211 they’ll speak to a live person who can connect them with the right resources and services for their issue.”

The funding for the program comes from both the Community Safety Investment Framework and the Calgary police budget reallocation.

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