Press Release

September 14, 2021


Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab selects five jurisdictions to participate in Alternative 911 Emergency Response project to advance public health approaches to public safety

Cambridge, MA – The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab (GPL) today announced the selection of five jurisdictions that will participate in a new initiative designed to implement alternative responses to nonviolent 911 calls—Durham, North Carolina;  Harris County, Texas; Long Beach, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Phoenix, Arizona.
The Alternative 911 Emergency Response Implementation Cohort will help participating jurisdictions create or enhance unarmed emergency response teams that reduce reliance on traditional law enforcement and connect residents to mental and behavioral health services, substance use treatment, and other forms of support.
The five communities were selected from a highly competitive applicant pool that included submissions from more than 60 jurisdictions around the country. The widespread interest in the Alternative 911 Emergency Response Implementation Cohort reflects a growing national commitment among jurisdictions seeking to reimagine their approaches to public safety.
“It is exciting to hear from communities across the country who are committed to shaping public safety systems that are more responsive and fair, particularly for communities of color that are often poorly served by existing approaches,” said Gloria Gong, Executive Director of the GPL. “In many cases, people who call 911 need support with mental health or connection to specific services. Right now, most jurisdictions can only respond to crises with fire, EMS, or law enforcement teams. Building out alternative 911 response models can empower communities to provide a wider array of services to residents that better reflect the challenges they face and reduce opportunities for unintended harm.”
The GPL will provide participating jurisdictions with technical assistance to accelerate and enhance the implementation of alternative 911 responses. This might include tracking 911 call volume, creating training curricula for response teams, designing 911 call decision trees, preparing community briefing materials, and assisting with procuring services from local providers. The technical assistance offered as part of the Implementation Cohort builds on the GPL’s work supporting Harris County, Texas with the implementation of their Holistic Alternative Response Team (or HART) program -- one of the largest alternative 911 response initiatives in the country to date.
The five jurisdictions were selected based on their level of community and stakeholder engagement, progress towards implementation of alternative 911 responses, and potential for impact.  The GPL also considered the vision and sense of commitment demonstrated by jurisdiction staff and leadership.
“We want Durham residents who call 911 to receive the most effective and appropriate response to serve their needs. Sometimes that is a police officer, and sometimes it’s a mental health worker or some other trained, unarmed crisis responder. We are so excited to be doing this work with such a strong cohort of cities and the guidance of the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab.” – Durham Mayor Steve Schewel
“For too long, we’ve unfairly placed our peace officers in untenable positions that require the unique skills and training of a mental health expert or a social worker. The Holistic Alternative Response Team (HART) will use trained professionals to get people the resources they need and make our communities safer. We are fortunate in Harris County to have widespread support for this health-based program, including from our partners in law enforcement.” – Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis
“In June of this year, the City Council and I approved a massive, $15 million expansion of Phoenix’s long standing alternative response program. Participation in the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab cohort will give us the means to engage in high-level thinking and planning that will empower us to vastly increase the program’s reach and effectiveness.” – Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego
"Connecting residents with the most appropriate resource while they are in a crisis is fundamental to public safety. We look forward to working with the Implementation Cohort to further protect the safety and wellbeing of all Philadelphians.” – Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney
“We are grateful for the opportunity to create an alternate crisis response team with the support of the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab. This effort builds on a long history of providing health-first approaches to people experiencing homelessness and mental illness in Long Beach.” – Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia
The Alternative 911 Emergency Response Implementation Cohort will run for approximately twelve months, starting in the fall. The GPL is also simultaneously launching a community of practice open to jurisdictions in the process of exploring, planning, or implementing alternative 911 responses where they can access resources and engage in peer learning opportunities. For more information see the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab website here.

About the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab

The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab (GPL), based in the School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, supports state and local governments across the country in designing and implementing solutions to pressing social problems. The GPL has conducted more than 200 projects in 35 states, helping innovative state and local government leaders improve the results they achieve for their residents. An important part of the GPL’s research model involves capturing the insights, tools and practices that are gained through these hands-on projects and sharing them with government leaders across the country.


Mike Holland


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