Calgary, AB,

Call-Diversion and Co-Location Initiative Update

Hundreds of non-urgent calls to Calgary 911 have been diverted away from requiring a police response as part of a call-diversion pilot program that began in February.

Through the program, 248 non-urgent calls for help to 911 were assessed and transferred to Distress Centre Calgary (211) to ensure the appropriate response was provided. This included calls regarding housing supports, mental health and addiction inquiries and child custody dispute questions.

Since Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, call takers have been looking for opportunities to connect some 911 and non-emergency line callers to Distress Centre Calgary. These calls include non-life-threatening and non-criminal calls that otherwise may have been dispatched to the Calgary Police Service. This includes connecting some calls from 911 to Distress Centre Calgary when the caller expresses the need to speak with someone about issues where there is no need for police, but they may not have otherwise known who to call for help.

“Partnerships like this are key to ensuring that Calgarians are connected with the right supports, at the right time, for the right outcomes when they need them the most. The more we continue to come together across systems, the more we can continue to ease the burden of those in crisis in having to navigate the system,” said Robyn Romano, Chief Executive Officer of Distress Centre Calgary. “This pilot has demonstrated initial results and we are excited to continuing working together in transforming crisis response in our city.”  

For example, one call to 911 came from the friend of a man who was going through a mental health and addiction crisis. The man was depressed and felt he had no one in the world to support him. The call taker was able to connect the man to 211 for emotional support and for connection to the Mobile Response Team – an Alberta Health Services program that offers urgent mental health support or consultations in crisis situations.

In another call, a senior living in Calgary Housing needed guidance as the building where he lived was closing. The senior was being moved to another location and needed someone to come and clean the home. The call was transferred to 211 where the senior was connected to the appropriate resources.

“We made a commitment in June of 2021 that we would find a better and more appropriate way to respond to the needs of Calgarians in crisis. What this pilot project is telling us is that by partnering with Calgary 911 and 211 Distress Centre, we are able to ensure people are being supported in the way they need it the most,” said CPS Chief Constable Mark Neufeld. “With only a few months of data to study, we know this is making a difference and we will continue to move forward with our call-diversion efforts.”

Domestic inquiries, check on welfare and mental health concerns make up the highest number of calls to Calgary 911.

The greatest number of calls referred to 211 from Calgary 911 occur on Mondays and Thursdays and on average lasted 17.5 minutes after transfer. About 75 per cent of the diverted calls come from Calgarians between the ages of 25 and 54 and the top three needs identified were mental health assessments, counselling requests and shelter inquiries.

As community partners and part of our overall commitment to our city, CPS, Calgary 911 and 211 have worked collaboratively to find a long-term solution to for people who are better served by mental health, addiction or social services, rather than a police response. This not only includes the call-diversion program, but a co-location initiative which sees 211 and 911 working together in a shared space.

“Our team has co-located the community-based crisis and systems navigation services provided by 211 staff directly into the City of Calgary’s 911 Operations Centre,” said Glenda Sahlen, Acting Commander, Calgary 911. “The over-arching objective of the pilot is to identify and implement new ways to improve the response to non-emergency mental health and other 211 service-related calls, resulting in better outcomes for Calgarians in crisis. Through an integrated cross-agency change management effort, our goal is to provide an enhanced response to citizens in, ensuring Calgarians get the right support in the right place at the right time.”

The CPS continues to engage with the community and social partners around service delivery models and best practices.

The CPS is also currently evaluating all calls that come into Calgary 911 and how they are dispatched. The Call Assessment Project aims to create a more efficient calls for service system that better identifies issues that can be handled by other City of Calgary business units or processes. It is hoped by properly diverting many of the non-police-related calls to the appropriate areas, police officers will have more time to address and investigate concerns identified as important to Calgarians.

Other commitments to call diversion continue to progress with help from the not-for-profit sector in Calgary as well as support from other municipal and provincial partners. This includes the increase in hours of operation of the Mobile Response Team, and the expansion of the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) as well as the Police and Crisis Team (PACT).

For a full list of services provided through 211 and Distress Centre Calgary, please click here.