Madison is innovating with a new model of crisis intervention and service delivery that better meets the needs of residents.

Madison police receive a large number of calls related to mental or behavioral health emergencies – about 7,000 a year, which equates to about 20 per day. We know that an armed officer is not always the best response to every emergency call for many reasons. Only a small portion of these calls involve a person who is a danger to themselves or others. This leaves a lot of room for an alternative response team.

That is why Madison is working to develop two-person teams consisting of a paramedic and a crisis worker, both with clinical experience and training in trauma-informed deescalation and harm reduction techniques, to respond to a range of behavioral health calls.

Since the funding for a pilot program was included in our 2021 budget, City staff, led by fire department’s emergency medical services team, have been working hard to make it happen.

City staff have partnered with County staff and the County’s designated crisis responders at Journey Mental Health to work out the details of how our crisis response teams would be hired, trained, supervised and dispatched.

As the fire department prepares to hire two community paramedics for this program, we continue to review data from recent years, develop effective and culturally competent training and evaluation systems, confirm days, times and locations of the first phase of the program, and continue to learn from other programs around the nation, including those in Eugene, Denver, and San Francisco.

Taking a look back at data from the previous two years, we learned:

  • That behavioral health calls can take responders, on average, three times as long as a regular call for service.
  • That most calls come in between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • That most calls, by a long shot, come into our Central District or the downtown area.

We are being intentional about bringing local leaders in racial equity, mental health, and community alternatives to policing as sounding boards and counsel as this unique and innovative effort is designed.

We are in the early stages of a long and reflective process of re-imagining public safety and the way Madison responds to calls for behavioral health needs. Your support, insight, and ideas will be vital to our success. You can reach me at with your thoughts about this initiative.

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