If police are called to a scene, there’s a pretty good chance somebody there is having a bad day. That scene might represent a singularly traumatic moment in the life of an individual or family. Or sometimes, what’s unfolding is the result of longstanding distress and dysfunction that bubbles over, occasionally or routinely, into the kind of disturbance that prompts a call for help.

When Providence, RI, police officers respond to situations like these, they may be accompanied by a key civilian partner—a social worker, in some cases a licensed mental health clinician—who in this context also acts as a first responder. The cop on the scene is responsible first and foremost for keeping everyone safe and enforcing laws. The social worker is there to start off by addressing the behavioral health problems and psychosocial needs that may be fueling the present crisis and seeding the next.

This practice, known as “co-response,” has its roots in partnerships going back nearly 20 years between the Providence Police Department (PPD) and two nonprofit agencies—Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI), a 125-year-old human services organization whose programming  includes mental health counseling, and The Providence Center (TPC), the state’s leading provider of mental health and addiction treatment.

More than a platform for referrals or policy talks, these are rubber-meets-the-road operational partnerships. They serve as a guide for other municipalities that are rethinking traditional responses to support people in crisis, and as the foundation upon which Providence itself is now expanding the role of clinicians in responding to 911 calls. Definitive data on the efficacy of co-responses is still being collected, but it’s already clear that these practices can help resolve incidents while improving safety for all parties.

Read the full article about co-response by Katharine Greider at LISC.