Atlanta, GA

Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative – Atlanta, GA

FEBRUARY 15, 2022

The Atlanta-based Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD) addresses community concerns related to unmet mental health needs, substance use, or extreme poverty. PAD accepts referrals through the City of Atlanta’s non-emergency 311 line, as well as prearrest diversions from law enforcement when they have detained someone for a violation related to the same underlying concerns. For both diversions and community referrals, a PAD Harm Reduction Team conducts outreach and works with the individual to assess their immediate needs and provide ongoing support. This can include a warm meal, transportation to emergency shelters, help navigating care options, or referrals to other service providers

The following information outlines PAD’s efforts since it began; it follows the sections of the toolkit. Readers can connect to other parts of the toolkit by clicking the headers for more details.


Photo credit: Dustin Chambers


Community Engagement and Collaboration

  • Prior to the launch of 311 Community Referral Services, PAD led a community engagement process in the summer and fall of 2020 to help think through how to design, plan, and implement their Community Referral Services. During this process, they:
    • Conducted 3 listening sessions, where community members shared their personal experiences, perspectives on how Atlanta could benefit from the program, and how PAD services could be expanded;
    • Convened 6 stakeholder working groups with a total of 40 participants to discuss challenges and opportunities; and
    • Surveyed 597 Atlanta residents between September and October 2020.
  • Between January and March 2021, PAD staff members gave presentations at 41 community meetings to educate residents on how to use PAD 311 Community Referral Services.
  • From May to July 2021, PAD staff conducted another public survey to further examine the current needs of the public, their experiences with the program, and to increase program awareness.
  • For more information on PAD’s community engagement efforts, watch the “Community Engagement: Planning and Ongoing Support for Community Responder Programs” webinar, hosted by the CSG Justice Center and featuring PAD’s executive director, Moki Macias. PAD’s reports are also publicly available at Community Survey Report and Community Listening Sessions Report.

Needs Assessment

  • As part of the community input process to help develop PAD 311 Community Referral Services, PAD hired Applied Research Services, Inc. in October 2020 to evaluate 911 calls for service data. This evaluation was intended to identify, analyze, and understand the types of calls that could be successfully diverted from 911 to non-law enforcement community care providers.
    • The team identified “Calls of Focus” to describe the type of calls that would be suitable for diversion from 911. The initial analysis identified 600,000, or approximately 18.4 percent, of all incoming 911 calls as suitable for diversion. Read the call study here.
  • PAD also conducts personal needs assessments for all referred individuals, connecting each person to the support they need. People with more extensive needs are enrolled as participants in PAD’s Care Navigation services. For these individuals, PAD provides direct support, including housing support, basic needs assistance, and case management.

Call Triaging

  • PAD responds to a variety of call types including basic needs, mental health, public disturbance, welfare, public health, public indecency, and substance use.
  • PAD accepts community referrals through 311, the city’s non-emergency services line, and calls deemed as urgent or important are responded to by a Harm Reduction Team within 30 minutes. Calls determined to be less urgent are responded to within 72 hours.
  • For additional information on PAD’s call triage process, watch a recording of the Taking the Call Conference session, “Identifying and Triaging Calls: 911, 311, 988, and Beyond.” This session was part of a national conference exploring innovative community responder models.

Program Staffing

  • Two-person Harm Reduction Teams provide immediate, consent-based outreach to individuals on issues such as poverty, public indecency, mental health, substance use, basic needs, welfare, and public health.
  • The team meets with the individual in need, discusses their concerns, and then provides ongoing support to address those issues. People with open legal cases or connection to the criminal justice system who need ongoing support are paired with a PAD Care Navigator. This navigator works with the individual to identify goals, initiate case management, provide direct services (including emergency housing support as well as food and transportation assistance), and establish connections with social services and other community supports.

Use of Data to Inform Decision Making

  • PAD collects a wide variety of data on program functions, including:
    • Calls by area of the city,
    • Calls/requests for assistance received,
    • Individuals who are successfully contacted by PAD responders,
    • Individuals who received telephone assistance,
    • People whose needs are successfully met, and
    • Referrals provided to other community services and organizations.
  • Additionally, PAD continues to collect information on community engagement with the program, including by:
    • Collecting information on individuals’ satisfaction with provided outcomes,
    • Routinely measuring resident knowledge of the program and the services it provides, and
    • Utilizing surveys to measure level of community engagement since the launch of 311 Community Referral Services. (Note: this survey has been conducted at least once with plans for additional surveys.)
  • In 2021, there were 984 referrals to 311 for the PAD team.
  • Between January and March 2021, PAD successfully contacted 71 people who had requested assistance. Three-quarters of those individuals were referred to other services, indicating that their needs were addressed. The other 25 percent were identified as requiring additional, ongoing support and were enrolled in PAD’s direct services.
  • In 2021, PAD received 940 referrals through Atlanta’s 311 line, and successfully engaged with 399 individuals. Of those calls, 738 callers referred someone else, and 109 callers requested assistance for themselves.
  • For more information, see the “Resources” tab on PAD’s official website and read the PAD 2021 Report and Arrest Analysis here.

Safety and Wellness

  • PAD Harm Reduction Teams never transport or engage with an individual who does not agree to interacting with them. PAD teams are not responsible for enforcing the law and do not detain any individual or otherwise attempt to compel them to take specific actions. Instead, PAD Harm Reduction Teams attempt to build rapport with each person and identify immediate needs to support them in reducing harm to themselves and others.
  • PAD’s approach to safety and wellness is also reflected in the work of their Care Navigators, who address quality-of-life concerns in a way that honors the dignity and self-determination of each participant. Care Navigators offer many types of support, including with:
    • Accessing medical, dental, and mental health care;
    • Applying for benefits and employment;
    • Identifying and securing housing;
    • Navigating the court system for previous cases or civil legal issues;
    • Reconnecting with family members or community supports; and
    • Securing documentation and identification.
  • Read more about their approach and how PAD supports wellness here.

Financial Sustainability

  • PAD’s 2022 budget is $4.5 million, with $1.5 million coming from the City of Atlanta.
  • Currently, 80 percent of PAD’s budget is from public funding (i.e., city, county, and federal grants), and the rest comes from private foundations.
  • PAD is working to enhance ways to collaborate with the City of Atlanta and Fulton County to increase public investments in community responder programs and other community-based services.