INDIANAPOLIS — Across the country, police respond to countless mental health emergencies. However, the city of Indianapolis is now trying something different.

Mayor Joe Hogsett announced the start of a program this week that he called a “first of its kind” for the city.

The program’s purpose? To have mental health professionals handle certain 911 calls, and do so without law enforcement present.

According to Hogsett, these mental health clinicians have been responding to calls since the beginning of the month.  

City officials said they hope providing support to people in crisis will reduce “unnecessary entanglement in the criminal justice system.” That means now, dispatchers determine whether a clinician-led response team can handle certain non-violent calls without police.  

“We’re a more comforting presence at times for folks who are already in a really escalated situation where they feel really anxious,” therapist Haleigh Rigger said. “Just seeing somebody that looks like them, that sounds like them in the community can be really helpful and reassuring.”

The Clinician-Led Community Response (CLCR) team says they’re trained to use de-escalation and crisis intervention tactics in those situations, with the goal of connecting people with the resources they need.

“This team can divert health problems away from incarceration and into effective treatment,” Mayor Hogsett said.

Since the pilot program launched on July 1, the team says they’ve sent licensed clinicians and peer support specialists to a “steady” stream of calls. They say they haven’t needed to request backup from law enforcement yet.  

Right now, team members can be dispatched between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily. The goal is to be available 24/7, but to do that they say they’ll need to increase their staff of 15 to 36.

The City-County Council approved the program with a budget of $2 million in October. Stepping Stone Therapy Center, the Phoenix Nicholas Center, Moving Forward LLC and the Office of Public Health and Safety are collaborators.