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Work still to be done before 911 deflection program starts in Louisville

The goal is to create a staff of trained counselors specifically to respond to mental health emergencies.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville is taking the next step on a project where social workers would head to some calls for help instead of police. The calls would be screened and a mental health professional would head out.

As Metro Councilmembers officially filed the ordinance Thursday night to implement a 911 deflection program, Louisville dispatchers inch closer to a modernized approach at their fingertips to serve those in crisis.

"It's extremely important for us to get it right," said East Louisville's Elishia Durrett Johnson, who says she's encouraged by the city's plan.

The pilot program was announced in October, and is fully funded already. The goal is to create a staff of trained counselors specifically to respond to mental health emergencies -- in some cases, diverting them away from police responsibility.

"Our police officers are not trained to deal with mental health," Durrett Johnson said.

Just this week we saw Hodgenville police start a similar project. Jeffersontown Police implemented their version in the summer. 

To mental healthcare professionals like Durrett Johnson, the benefits are obvious. She's the CEO of Begin to Talk services.

"Just today I had a client tell me if she didn't have access to therapy for the past year, she didn't even know if she would be here," Durrett Johnson said.

Originally, the hope for many was to get mobile units up and running by the start of December. That hasn't happened, although job listings through city partners are already online.

MetroSafe tells WHAS 11 there are still details to be ironed out but wouldn't specify. MetroSafe officials say they're meeting with Metro Councilmembers next week and will have more updates then.

In the meantime, the ordinance heads to committee, in hopes to get to a full vote by the final session of this year. A yes vote would give the program the official go-ahead to start.

Meanwhile, Durrett Johnson says for the program to succeed, the city must build trust with the community in the process.

"If they see the case manager or social worker as an extension of LMPD, instead of an alternative service, then it doesn't matter what service you're trying to bring them. They're not going to engage in it," she said.

And as Louisville families battle losses at the hands of violence, many see these intervention efforts also making the difference between life and death.

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