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New Haven officials say unarmed community response team has been effective

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker with police and fire department members.
Molly Ingram
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker with police and fire department members.

New Haven is expanding their crisis response team.

The team, called Elm City COMPASS, is made up of social workers and people with lived experience.

They support the city’s police, fire and EMS departments by responding to mental health, substance abuse and housing insecurity calls. They are unarmed and aim to comfort residents who are in crisis.

COMPASS, which stands for “Compassionate Allies Serving Our Streets,” began its pilot phase in November 2022. Since then, they have answered more than 500 calls.

“Elm city COMPASS is something that we created to make sure that the right person with the right skills at the right time shows up to help residents in need,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said.

COMPASS was created in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. According to Elicker, the city wanted to improve public safety and support residents.

Program Director Dr. Jack Tebes said COMPASS has been able to do that.

“COMPASS is working,” Tebes said. “A big reason it's working is we are listening to people with lived experience, as well as listening to service providers and first responders who work on the frontlines of crisis response.”

According to data from the program, 61% of the calls COMPASS has answered have been related to mental health or substance abuse issues. 39% have been in response to housing or other service needs.

Police Chief Karl Jacobson said his department is grateful for the help.

“We're not equipped to do a lot of the things that COMPASS is now doing for us, especially taking the time, the lived experience, homelessness and substance abuse,” Jacobson said. “These are things that we deal with every day as officers, and arresting isn't going to change it, we need to do more. And this has enabled us to do more”

The second phase of the program, which began at the beginning of July, will include expanded hours and more staff. Case management will also be available for individuals who are interested.

The program is funded with $1.5 million from the city and $2 million from the federal government, secured by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03).

Phase 3 will begin in July 2024.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.