9-1-1 Call Diversion Project

By Ashling Murphy, Toronto Police Service Published: 10:50 a.m. November 2, 2021

In an ongoing effort to improve how the Toronto Police Services (TPS) serves citizens who call 9-1-1, TPS and Gerstein Crisis Centre (GCC) have developed and launched the 9-1-1 Call Diversion Pilot Project.

A woman at a desk using a headset
Carla Pearson, Gerstein Centre Coordinator for the 9-1-1 Call Diversion Program works from Communications Services

Listening to input from the mental health community in Toronto to reform policing response, this one-year pilot will have TPS and GCC responders working collaboratively, but distinctly, to assist in the diversion of non-emergency mental health related calls away from a police response.  TPS call-takers will evaluate incoming calls for diversion based on specific non-imminent risk criteria and transfer calls to the GCC crisis worker, who will be co-located in the TPS Communications Call Centre.

“As part of our work to implement the Toronto Police Services Board 81 Recommendations on Police Reform, it has been a priority for the TPS to find new and innovative ways to better serve Persons in Crisis,” said Chief of Police James Ramer.  “Under the leadership of Deputy Chief of Police Peter Yuen, our members have collaborated with the Gerstein Centre to support our mutual goal of an appropriate, effective and compassionate response for those experiencing a mental health crisis.”

“For more than 30 years, Gerstein Crisis Centre has been providing Toronto communities with safe, compassionate, and respectful crisis services to individuals where and when they need it, ranging from a 24/7 telephone line to an in-person mobile team and short term crisis beds,” says GCC Executive Director Susan Davis. 

A GCC crisis worker is now available in the 9-1-1 Communications Centre, 20-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to respond to people in crisis, who call police with no imminent risk criteria. The discussions between a caller and a Crisis Worker in this project remain protected under the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

“The experienced and knowledgeable crisis workers are trained in: mental health, crisis intervention, de- escalation, suicide intervention, harm reduction, and work from a strength based, trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, anti-racist perspective,” adds Davis. 

TPS receives approximately 33,000 mental health related calls each year and the project aims to connect people in crisis where there is no imminent risk, with the appropriate resources to reduce the need for police to respond to non-emergency mental health related calls.  The pilot is serving the communities in 51, 52 and 14 Divisions.

“If there are no other imminent risks involved including weapons or threat to life, we can offer an additional layer of mental health related support through this pilot if they are within the catchment area,” says Communications Manager Kerry Murray-Bates.  “It may also be a friend or family member calling on behalf of someone else wondering what they can do. Either way, the call takers can offer the support of the crisis worker and following consent, the call would be transferred to a GCC crisis worker.”

Murray-Bates adds that GCC is a great fit because they have access to an abundance of resources and can provide the caller with a network of support, while helping to divert non-emergency mental health related calls away from a police response, whenever possible.

"As an accessible source of support and recovery for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, Gerstein’s philosophy is based on a person centred and holistic approach to crisis management, ensuring that the environment and support offered are individualized, responsive, and respectful of the autonomy and dignity of the people we serve.,” says Davis.

If at any time the call escalates while the crisis worker is on the line, it can be sent back to TPS call takers for a police response, which may include one of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCITs) made up of a police officer and a healthcare nurse.

Deputy Chief Peter Yuen adds that the need for this type of alternate response was also highlighted in the Toronto Police Services Board’s 81 Recommendations on Police Reform, specifically recommendation 1(b), which calls for the development of alternative models of community safety response for mental health calls for service.

“The TPS and GCC have a history of collaboration on various mental health initiatives and this latest project is just one more way we are working in co-operation with our partners to better serve the community.”

About Gerstein Crisis Centre

Established in Toronto in 1989, Gerstein Crisis Centre provides a range of non-police, 24-hour crisis response and intervention services to people across the City of Toronto who are living with mental health and addiction issues. As an accessible source of support and recovery for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, we work collaboratively to improve timely and equitable access to services that are guided by the voices of those with lived experience, to promote wellness, recovery and strong consumer survivor networks. For more information visit  www.gersteincentre.org.

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