New Toolkit Features Key Insights from Emerging and Established Community Responder Models Across the U.S

February 9, 2022

On January 19, 2022, The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and Vital Strategies hosted a virtual Justice Briefing Live event to promote the first-of-its-kind resource, “Expanding First Response: A Toolkit for Community Responder Programs.” During the event, a panel of experts discussed how tailored community responder models across the country are meeting local needs, improving health outcomes, and reducing reliance on law enforcement.

The launch event featured key experts in crisis response, including Tim Black, director of Consulting of White Bird Clinic in Eugene, OR; Anne Larsen, then Outreach Services coordinator of Olympia, WA’s police department; Elizabeth “E” Ruebman, managing director of the Newark Community Street Team, and Aqeela Sherrills, director of the Newark Community Street Team. Moderated by Dionna King of Vital Strategies and the CSG Justice Center’s Sarah Wurzburg, these speakers discussed ways to build relationships with key stakeholders, how community responder programs can be cost-effective for cities, and the importance of engaging people with lived experience in the behavioral health and criminal justice systems.

Initially released in December 2021, “Expanding First Response: A Toolkit for Community Responder Programs” features an array of resources to help local communities and states looking to establish or sustain community responder programs. These programs allow health professionals and staff trained in crisis response to serve as first responders to 911 and other emergency calls for service, as well as social disturbances. They also provide immediate support for people experiencing behavioral health and substance use crises, as well as conduct wellness checks and help people with housing needs and a range of other mental health-related support. Once advocated largely by health professionals, grassroots activists, and community members, community responder programs have emerged as an effective way to support people in need and safely reduce their interactions with the criminal justice system.

“While many community responder programs are relatively new, the concept of using health professionals and staff trained in crisis response to assist and connect people to support services has been around for decades,” said Sarah Wurzburg, program director for Behavioral Health at the CSG Justice Center. “We hope the toolkit gives other jurisdictions the resources they need to begin, expand, or sustain their own programs.”

Informed by leaders who have offered key insight into the critical details to their success, the toolkit also includes information on how to implement a responder program as part of a comprehensive crisis system.

“The CSG Justice Center’s toolkit shares expertise from around the country and is an invaluable resource for jurisdictions and community-based organizations that are considering more effective and humane responses to drug use and mental health issues,” said Dionna King, program manager at Vital Strategies.

The toolkit draws on the experience of various emerging models in the U.S. and presents key issues that are crucial to the success of any program. It will be updated regularly with program highlights and additional resources for the field. Each section includes

  • A snapshot of the issue.
  • Important considerations for successful implementation.
  • Essential resources, which may include practical strategies, field-based examples, instructive videos, and more.

Used together, these resources can help jurisdictions reimagine public safety and focus on expanding first response efforts for improving health outcomes, strengthening connections to services, and reducing unnecessary police involvement.

View the new resource: Expanding First Response: A Toolkit for Community Responder Programs

You might also be interested in