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Crime & Justice

911 Call Takers In Austin Have A New Script, Which Includes A Triage Option For Mental Health Crises

Two parked Austin police cars; one with a door open.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

As part of Austin’s attempt to address the high rate of people killed by police while experiencing mental health crises, 911 operators can now immediately triage mental health calls.

Here’s the new script: “Austin 911, do you need Police, Fire, EMS, or Mental Health Services?”

Those who choose mental health services will be transferred to a clinician working within the 911 call center. According to a memo the city released Friday, Austin is the only municipality in the U.S. to alter its 911 script in this way.

Police will still be dispatched to some mental health calls, and if a clinician is not available to take a call, a police officer with mental health training will be sent.

The city says it is working to further refine this triage system; its goal is to not have law enforcement officers respond to mental health calls that do not pose a threat to public safety.

The recommendation for this change predates City Council's decision to cut money from the Austin Police Department’s budget last summer.

Using national data, city auditors found in 2018 that Austin had the highest per capita rate of police killings of people experiencing mental health crises.

In response, the city hired the Meadows Mental Health Police Institute for Texas to come up with recommendations for how Austin could better respond to these calls. The consultants, who finalized their report in 2019, suggested the city focus in part on where mental health calls originate: the 911 call center.

Got a tip? Email Audrey McGlinchy at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.

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