What Triage Centers Mean for Cities, First-Responders and People in Crisis

Triage centers provide a strong opportunity to bring first responders and community-based service providers together to effectively address behavioral health crises and improve quality of life across a city.

City leaders across the country are prioritizing better police responses to people suffering behavioral health crises, which include mental health or substance abuse crises.  Triage centers serve as key components to improved police responses in several communities and are becoming more prevalent. Triage centers provide a no-wrong-door, treatment-focused option where first responders, including police and emergency medical services, can take eligible individuals experiencing mental health or substance use issue rather than arresting them.

The city of Bellingham, Washington is in the process of expanding its already successful Crisis Triage Center.

Bellingham Councilmember April Barker says, “Expanding our triage services and beds give police officers and EMS staff jail diversion options that are in line with our community’s values.”

Law enforcement leaders agree that they need alternatives to traditional enforcement mechanisms in behavioral health crisis. A recent survey of Illinois Police and Sheriff’s Departments revealed that nearly 70 percent of respondents thought mental health crisis response is one of the most important issues, if not the top issue, they face. Triage centers provide a great example of how law enforcement and community-based services partner to successfully improve health outcomes and reduce public safety risks from individuals with behavioral health needs.

As part of NLC’s role in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, NLC collected examples and guidance on triage centers from national partners and cities across the country. To learn more about triage centers and what other cities are doing, read the newly released policy brief, Triage Centers as Alternatives to Jail for People in Behavioral Health Crises.

For more information contact Laura Furr at furr@nlc.org.

taraAbout the author: Tara Dhanraj is a Senior Associate for Justice Reform at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.