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Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Philadelphia will assign behavioral health specialists to work alongside police radio dispatchers for the first time in the city’s history.

The 911 Triage and Co-Responder Program will create a triage desk to identify 911 calls involving mental health issues and offer services to those residents instead of arresting them, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The goal of the program is to move individuals with behavioral health needs away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate care, Kenney wrote in the program's press release.

The program, announced by the city on Oct. 9, is a response to widespread calls for police reform in Philadelphia. 

In a pilot program embedding outreach workers with officers in the Philadelphia's East police division, officials connected over 150 people to appropriate mental health services without making any arrests, the Inquirer reported.

Penn’s Division of Public Safety operates its own dispatching center run by PennComm operators. Calls to 911 on or off campus bypass the Penn Police Department and go straight to the Philadelphia Police and Fire Departments.

Philadelphia is also planning to expand its co-responder program, which partners behavioral health workers and law enforcement to respond to calls involving behavioral health issues. The expansion, which seeks to provide a tailored response to 911 calls and requests from patrol officers, is expected to be completed in November, the Inquirer reported.

In the wake of the re-ignited Black Lives Matter movement this summer, protesters called on the Philadelphia government to defund the police and reallocate funds from law enforcement to other community resources. At Penn, thousands of students and faculty demanded the University cease its longtime support of the Philadelphia Police Department and reform its campus policing methods.

“We are focused on taking action, adopting and implementing a comprehensive police reform agenda, to make real changes that allow us to build a more equitable and safe city for all Philadelphians," Kenney wrote in the release.

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