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Phoenix hiring caseworkers to respond to crisis calls rather than police and fire

Phoenix is hiring caseworkers for its expanded community assistance program (CAP). Last year, council members approved $15 million to add five civilian crisis response units and create nine behavioral health units to respond to 911 calls. 

Program administrator D.C. Ernst told the public safety subcommittee Wednesday that the goal is to have 86 full-time equivalent positions the first year. Since July 1, a CAP administrator, four casework services coordinators and eight caseworkers have been hired. 

“When the team and mayor and council, working with community, were looking to expand the program, one thing we heard from police officers and community, and for individuals experiencing mental health crisis, was that they were looking forward to an alternative response,” said Deputy City Manager Ginger Spencer. “So, by having these behavioral health units in place, by having additional crisis response units, these are civilian only teams that will be responding to these calls.”

Ernst said a city dispatch review team is working with the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab.

“The GPL fellow led a brainstorming session to identify calls for Phoenix and has provided examples of questions asked by 911 operators to identify behavioral health related calls which can be used to dispatch the right resource at the right time,” she said.

The first behavioral health unit should be working by the end of April. Phoenix is looking for locations to house units, primarily along Interstate 17, because that corridor was identified as having a high need. 

The city has ordered 23 vehicles for the program, which will be white and feature a city logo. Ernst said the vehicles have been delayed and should arrive between July and October. Until then, the program will use other city vehicles.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.