Developing Alternative Response Program: Collaborative Effort

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How Can I Participate? Extensive Research What about ACORNS?

The number of people facing complex problems, such as substance abuse or mental health challenges, is increasing. These issues often stem from lack of housing options; limited access to mental health services, medical care and substance use recovery services; and low income. Connecting residents to the right care by using new responses that match their needs can be effective. 

To further address our community’s need for crisis prevention and management, the City of Raleigh and our partners are developing an alternative response program. This means social workers or mental health professionals would respond along with police officers to certain 911 calls. 

The City wants to build this work in a way that incorporates the input of those who will be impacted most and who will be needed to make successful, long-term change in Raleigh. To meet this goal, we hope to reach and collaborate with: 

  • Raleigh residents, with an added focus on those who have been impacted by crisis;
  • Wake County;
  • Community organizations;
  • Local nonprofits;
  • First responders;
  • Mental health professionals; and,
  • Peer support specialists.

“We want to work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered,” says Michele Mallette, Chief of Staff with the City. “We want to use those concerns and aspirations in developing the new program.”

How Can I Participate?

Your input is meaningful and powerful. We are looking for your input from naming the program to choosing its components.

The City will host a number of community engagement opportunities and collect feedback through several methods. Starting in December 2023, the City offers various opportunities for community involvement in this work; for information, please see the community engagement page

Extensive Research

In developing the program, we are leveraging a study by the Research Triangle Institute, which collected data in 2020 on Raleigh and six other cities in the Carolinas with the goal of improving first-response systems. The study looked at 911 call data to determine the need for alternative response systems and found a lack of resources addressing low-risk and mental-health related calls. As a result, many of the cities began developing policies and programs to address this resource gap, including the Durham HEART Program.  

The City of Raleigh also recently conducted a comprehensive assessment of the resources we already have in place, including the ACORNS program (see below) and researched several other cities’ solutions to identifying and ultimately meeting these needs. See the “Roadmap to Raleigh’s Alternative Response Program” presentation for more information.

This chart shows the common components of many cities’ alternative response programs:

Common Components of Alternative Response Programs

If viewing on a mobile device, please navigate the 5 columns using the arrows above the chart.
Component Name Crisis Call Diversion Co-Response Community Response Team Care Navigation and Case Management
Team Composition Licensed Clinician/Mental Health Professional Social Workers and RPD Officers Social Workers, EMS, and Peer Support Specialists Social Works, Peer Support Specialists and/or RPD Officers
Description Addition of a clinician to 911 Call Center for over the phone support and de-escalation 911 Dispatch to High Risk Calls 911 Dispatch to Low Risk Calls Follow-up and resource connection

What about ACORNS?

Since 2020, the City of Raleigh has had a program called ACORNS (Addressing Crisis Through Outreach, Referrals, Networking and Service). The ACORNS team combines social workers and Raleigh police officers with the stated goal of “Care and safety first, enforcement last.” The team works with residents in crisis and directs them to available resources, with the goals of de-escalation and future crisis prevention.  

Since its implementation, the ACORNS team has seen success in addressing homelessness, mental health issues and substance-abuse concerns. The ACORNS team focuses its efforts on high-risk cases that often involve vulnerable community members. 

The City has heard the community’s request to look into expanding our first-response efforts. Through the development of an alternative response model located outside of the police department, we hope to provide tools of de-escalation and connection to resources for a wider variety of cases.