• Prior to 2021, the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) found themselves responding to many calls from residents that posed no risk to public safety. These calls were frequently related to issues like mental health, substance use, and homelessness, and the vulnerable residents at the center of these calls were often in need of social services and ongoing supports.

  • National and local activism following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 spurred the SPPD and other civic leaders to pursue a new approach that would alleviate pressure on the overextended police department and better serve vulnerable residents of St. Petersburg.

  • In February 2021, the SPPD and Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (Gulf Coast JFCS) launched the Community Assistance Life Liaison (CALL) program. Under the new program, non-violent and non-criminal calls related to mental health, substance use, youth issues, and others are diverted directly to Gulf Coast JFCS for a non-police, social work-oriented response. Teams of two CALL navigators, trained in crisis intervention, respond to emergency calls without police, de-escalating situations and linking residents to relevant social services.

  • Keys to CALL’s success include strong champions within SPPD who were invested in meeting the needs of residents; a partnership with a highly qualified implementation partner, Gulf Coast JFCS; program leaders’ commitment to flexibility and on-going process improvement; the strong collaboration between CALL program leaders and local service providers; and an effective and engaged network of community advocates that have provided ongoing input into the program.

  • Obstacles to success include the challenge of building awareness about the new approach among the general public; generating buy-in among SPPD officers and EMS responders who were accustomed to a specific protocol; and recruiting and retaining navigators given the high-stress nature of crisis response.

“We de-escalate, identify any imminent risks to self or others, and then link clients to appropriate services. That could be anything from going grocery shopping if they haven't eaten in days to providing transport to the hospital.”

Tianna Audet, CALL Program Director

“People were willing to lay their bodies on the line to see systemic change happen. They laced up their shoes and went out into the streets to demand that something be done. If it wasn't for that, I don't think CALL would have happened.”

John Muhammad, St. Petersburg City Council Member

"CALL plugs holes in the safety net and makes an impact on the individual people. You almost can't measure that kind of impact. I talked to a woman whose navigator actually found a pro bono immigration lawyer to help with her papers. That’s the kind of support CALL provides."

Dr. Edelyn Verona, Equity Analysis Lead; University of South Florida

“Officers tell me all the time – ‘don’t take CALL away!’ – they value the program and understand how mental health professionals are better equipped to respond to these calls. It’s a win for the Department and a win for the community.”

Megan McGee, Assistant Director at St. Petersburg Police Department

"If you're truly serving your community, you must recognize that needs adapt and change over time. You, as a program, have to be adaptable too. Part of that is meeting with your collaborative–funders, the police department, the city, service providers, and advocates– to get a pulse on what they’re seeing so that you can prioritize and change focus if necessary.”

Nicole Guincho, VP of Clinical Services at Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services

“CALL is successful because we took the time to develop and refine the program, and we continue to seek ways to expand and improve. The community, and our officers, are grateful the program exists and is available to respond to anyone experiencing mental health and economic crises.”

Tony Holloway, St. Petersburg Chief of Police

Results and Accomplishments


More than eleven thousand community contacts, including 911 calls, non-emergency calls and follow ups, have been responded to by a CALL navigator since 2021.


More than five thousand unique individuals have been served by CALL since the program launched.


Ninety-seven percent of CALL's responses result in a diversion from crisis unit, hospitalization, or police response.

  • Providing needed social services without police: The CALL program diverts emergency calls related to mental health, substance use, and other non-violent issues to navigators trained in de-escalation and trauma-informed care. Of the more than 11,000 instances responded to by a CALL navigator, roughly 97% have prevented resident contact with a crisis unit, police, or hospitalization.

  • Timely support for vulnerable residents: Emergency calls diverted to the CALL program receive a guaranteed response within 30 minutes in person or 15 minutes by phone, with many receiving a response more quickly. CALL is available 18 hours per day, seven days per week. The program also provides residents a 24/7 crisis line they may call at any time for support from a navigator.

  • Established relationship for ongoing support: CALL navigators have established trusting relationships with the residents they serve. Navigators follow up with residents to ensure their needs continue to be met after an incident. 86% of residents who have received CALL support have attended a second, follow-up visit coordinated by their navigator.

  • Shifted $8.05 million in public funding to CALL since 2021: The St. Petersburg City Council has provided $4.85 million dollars in total to fund this evidence-based program between 2021 and 2024. The Council’s most recent expansion of funding also provides $1.6 million annually for both 2025 and 2026.

  • Close collaboration between officers and navigators: SPPD officers have recognized the value CALL provides and have largely supported the program. SPPD officers have referred over 2,000 individuals and families to the CALL program for response.


What was the challenge?

  • An overextended police department: For years, officers of the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) found themselves responding to many calls where their presence was not necessary. These calls posed no risk of violence and frequently stemmed from issues related to mental health, substance use, homelessness, and incidents with juveniles. Responding to these calls consumed a significant portion of police capacity, lessening their ability to focus on crime and public safety issues.

  • Vulnerable residents in need of social services: When SPPD officers responded to calls related to mental health, substance use, homelessness, or other issues that did not threaten public safety, they lacked the protocols to connect residents in need with social services or referrals to medical providers. Without connections to more intensive supports, outcomes for these residents seldom improved.

  • Local and national activism highlighted the need for police reform: As leadership in SPPD was reckoning with both the inefficiency of responding to calls where officers were not needed and the inadequacy of connections to services that officers could provide to residents, local activists were pushing for reforms related to disproportionate police response. George Floyd's murder in 2020 and the subsequent civil demonstrations in St. Petersburg and across the nation spurred local activists to engage more directly with civic leaders and advocate for law enforcement reform.

  • Coalescing around the need for a new approach: Encouraged by activists' calls for reform, the SPPD and other civic leaders recognized the need for new approaches that would create better outcomes for individuals in need, while saving law enforcement resources and capacity to respond to emergencies that threatened public safety.

What was the solution?

CALL Navigators
  • Diverting many emergency calls for non-police response: To create better outcomes for St. Petersburg residents, the SPPD initiated the creation of the Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program. CALL created an infrastructure where emergency requests related to mental health, substance use, homelessness, and other non-violent issues are diverted directly to a team of trained mental health navigators.

  • Partnership with expert social service provider: CALL is operated by a community-based partner, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (Gulf Coast JFCS). Emergency requests are responded to by teams of two navigators, who de-escalate situations, seek to understand the individual’s needs, and link them to social services. Services can include anything from transportation or shelter, to ongoing support with medication or connections to a primary care physician. Navigators build relationships with residents and follow up after initial calls to ensure their needs are being met.

  • Diversion of eligible calls by Emergency Communications Division: When calls are received by the SPPD Emergency Communications Division (EMD), dispatchers follow specific protocols that enable them to identify calls that are eligible for a non-police response. These fall into one of the eleven types, largely related to mental health and substance use. EMD then sends information directly to the CALL team for response.

  • Initial pilot followed by expansion and refinement: CALL was originally approved and implemented as a 9-month pilot program focused on establishing critical processes and generating proof of concept. Following the success of the pilot, the program was made permanent and has subsequently been refined and expanded over time.

What were the key components of the program’s design?

CALL navigator Heather Loychik speaks to a resident
  • Diversion of certain emergency calls for non-police response: In the CALL program, eleven emergency call types are diverted directly to the response team at Gulf Coast JFCS. The Emergency Communications Division (EMD) dispatchers are trained to identify these call types, collect necessary information, and communicate it with navigators at Gulf Coast JFCS. Calls that are diverted to Gulf Coast JFCS include those coded as mental health issues, suicide threats, mental health transports, involuntary mental health hospitalization, truancy, disorderly juvenile, hospitalization due to substance use, drug overdose, neighborhood dispute, calls for assistance and panhandling.

  • Well-established safety protocols: Every emergency call diverted to the CALL program is responded to by a pair of navigators–one of whom is the primary responder while the other takes note of context, assesses risks, and provides support. Program protocols are also designed to ensure that only calls with a low risk of violence are diverted to the CALL program. The ECD dispatchers are trained to assess the risk of each call based on available information and determine if diversion to CALL is appropriate.

  • Highly-trained mental health responders: Navigators receive extensive, ongoing training to ensure that they are well-equipped to de-escalate and provide services to residents in a wide array of situations. Fundamentals include scenario-based training twice per year, two four-hour “ride alongs” with SPPD officers, and trauma-informed care. Furthermore, there are more than 30 additional trainings provided on an annual or bi-annual basis that cover topics like mental health first aid, suicide safety planning, and cultural sensitivity.

  • 24-hour crisis line: Gulf Coast JFCS instituted a crisis phone line that residents can call directly to talk to a navigator on the phone or request a navigator come out in person. This increases speed of response for vulnerable residents with whom CALL has an established relationship, allowing their needs to more quickly be met.

Who were the key stakeholders?

  • St. Petersburg Police Department Leadership: SPPD leadership played an essential role in soliciting input from advocates, pursuing a new approach, and implementing CALL. SPPD Chief Anthony Holloway recognized opportunities to improve the emergency response system to better meet the needs of residents and police officers, convened engagements with community leaders and served as a critical champion of CALL as it was being implemented. SPPD Assistant Director Megan McGee also played a central role in implementing the program, leading the effort to create the basic components of the approach, designing the RFP, and collaborating closely with Gulf Coast JFCS to operationalize the new model.

  • Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (Gulf Coast JFCS): Gulf Coast JFCS is the nonprofit that was selected to run the CALL program via the SPPD RFP. After securing the contract with SPPD, Gulf Coast JFCS co-designed the program with SPPD leadership, hired and trained staff, and began running the program. Before CALL, Gulf Coast JFCS had been a prominent social service provider in St. Petersburg for decades. They also had an established relationship and understanding of SPPD: For over 10 years, Gulf Coast JFCS participated in Crisis Intervention Team training (CIT) with SPPD, a 40 hour evidenced-based practice that assists law enforcement officers in learning how to respond to calls with mental health needs.

  • Local community organizers: Local community groups, including the St. Petersburg Dream Defenders, and now-City Council Members John Muhammad and Richie Floyd, had a long been advocating for increased and improved services for St. Petersburg’s marginalized communities, including police reform. These groups had positively collaborated with the SPPD on multiple occasions and were early collaborators with SPPD in creating an alternative emergency response program.

  • Emergency Communications Division: SPPD’s Emergency Communications Division (EMD) plays the crucial role of identifying 911 and non-emergency calls that should be diverted to the CALL team for response. When interacting with callers, dispatchers collect information that empowers CALL navigators to respond appropriately. This information is then immediately shared with the CALL team at Gulf Coast JFCS, who then send teams of navigators to respond. EMD supervisors also regularly collaborate with CALL staff to deliberate on calls if they are uncertain.

  • Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association: Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association (PBA) was an early supporter of pursuing a model like CALL. Union President Jonathan Vazquez spoke favorably about similar diversion programs, highlighting their potential benefit to the SPPD and vulnerable residents of St. Petersburg.

  • St. Petersburg City Council: City Council was instrumental in securing public funding for CALL. The legislature supported and passed funding authorization for the initial pilot, and included funding expansions for CALL in subsequent annual budgets.

  • Community-based organizations: Gulf Coast JFCS relies on relationships with a broad network of non-profit service providers to connect residents to services that Gulf Coast JFCS itself may not provide. These include housing, ongoing mental and physical health treatment, and others.

  • University of South Florida Researchers: Dr. Edelyn Verona of the University of South Florida (USF) led an equity analysis of the first year of CALL implementation. She also partnered with SPPD to review data from the pilot phase. SPPD and Gulf Coast JFCS used the results to implement improvements to the CALL model. As of December 2023, she is working on a second phase of equity analysis.

What factors drove success?

Navigators Jorge Gomez-Aguirre and Tonzell Porterfield with Program Director Tianna Audet
  • An invested and supportive leader: SPPD Chief Anthony Holloway championed the initiative and provided support necessary for securing resources and bringing critical stakeholders on board. He established the implementation of CALL as a departmental priority and helped the team overcome bottlenecks. Assistant Chief Antonio Gilliam also played a crucial role, meeting frequently with the core team (including participating in co-design sessions with Gulf Coast JFCS) throughout program implementation.

  • A highly-qualified implementation partner: The SPPD trusted Gulf Coast JFCS to draw from their expertise to shape an effective program. In turn, the department took the lead on determining how to make the program function seamlessly within the SPPD. Both partners have collaborated productively throughout the program’s existence.

  • Real-time communication, flexibility and processes for ongoing improvement: CALL leaders note that the program must constantly evolve and adapt to the changing needs of St. Petersburg residents. The CALL program leadership at Gulf Coast JFCS, SPPD leaders, and managers from the Emergency Communications Division are in near-constant communication to share information about new developments in the city and to work together to tweak day-to-day operations.

  • Close collaboration between local stakeholders and providers: Navigators rely upon relationships with a variety of local stakeholders to carry out their work effectively. They have open lines of communications with local institutions like the Pinellas County Hospital, the school district, and the transit agency. Some partners play a pivotal role during the call response process itself, while others receive referrals from CALL for services. CALL’s relationships with community-based social service providers enables navigators to quickly link the residents they serve to the ongoing supports they need.

  • Effective, community-based advocacy: The CALL program would not have launched without the work of advocates, who pushed for increased social services and police reform, and participated in community engagement sessions to elevate their needs and preferences. Resident engagement has also been critical to the ongoing success of the program, enabling program leaders to adapt the program over time to changing needs of the community.

What were the major obstacles?

  • Public education and building awareness: CALL leaders note that despite robust marketing and communications efforts, it was still difficult to build awareness of the program. Soon after launching the program, navigators found that residents were at times surprised to see civilians responding to emergency calls instead of police officers. Over time awareness has increased, supported by dispatchers at the Emergency Communications Division explaining to callers who they should expect to respond. Still, program leadership recommends more expansive, city-wide communications to other jurisdictions seeking to implement similar initiatives.

  • Generating buy-in among SPPD officers and EMS responders: At the onset of the program, some officers and EMS responders, used to very specific emergency response protocols, found the shift to a new process difficult. In some cases, staff were hesitant about the model’s ability to be effective. Some members of law enforcement were also concerned about safety and potential liability if a navigator were to be injured. To overcome this hesitation, CALL hosted meetings with EMS workers and police officers and made themselves available for trouble-shooting efforts. As more emergency responders saw CALL in action, they became more supportive of the approach.

  • Navigator recruitment and retention: Crisis response is often an intense and stressful job. It can be difficult to recruit and retain navigators who can often find less demanding and higher-paying jobs elsewhere. CALL leadership emphasized the need for a flexible staffing model that helps retain employees and fosters their growth within the organization. The program also enlists a roster of licensed, trained contractors who are employed elsewhere, but can be called in as necessary to fill gaps in coverage.

Ready to learn more?

Complete this form to learn about the factors that drove this initiative’s success, key components of its design, how it was funded, and more. You also will also receive full access to all Economic Mobility Catalog case studies.


Implementation process

How were community members engaged?

  • Community organizing and collaboration with the SPPD: Prior to the official decision to launch the CALL program, community leaders had for years been advocating for reform and better services for vulnerable communities. On several occasions the SPPD and Chief Holloway solicited guidance from advocates on how the department should respond to demonstrations and community requests. These requests resulted in actions such as reforms to the SPPD’s police chase policy, a new approach to crowd management at the annual MLK Day parade, and the establishment of the Police Assisting the Homeless (PATH) unit within SPPD.

  • Community conversations and meetings with special interest groups: As part of the program design process, CALL program leaders, including staff from SPPD and Gulf Coast JFCS, solicited input about community needs and preferences in large community conversations. CALL leaders also convened meetings with special interest groups like the local NAACP, The Deuces Live, a local African American community organization, the Council of Neighborhood Associations, local faith leaders, and others. More than fifty such convenings have taken place since 2021. More recent conversations have focused on soliciting ongoing feedback about the program.

How did racial equity considerations factor in?

  • Selection of Gulf Coast JFCS as a partner: Gulf Coast JFCS is a trauma-informed agency with a dedication to multicultural competence, diversity and equity. They have a long-standing history of working to support St. Petersburg’s most vulnerable residents, and as a result they are trusted by those communities. Gulf Coast JFCS prioritizes hiring staff, including CALL navigators, who have lived experience with the issues they seek to address or, at a minimum, have extensive experience working with underserved populations. They sought to hire navigators who mirrored the racial diversity of the clients CALL serves.

  • Racial equity-oriented training: All navigators receive training that equips them to respond to the needs of racially marginalized communities. This includes trainings related to implicit bias, cultural diversity and ethics, trauma-informed care, civil rights, and more.

  • Equity analysis: The SPPD and Gulf Coast JFCS collaborated with researchers, led by Dr. Edelyn Verona at the Center for Justice Research and Policy at the University of South Florida and funded by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, to conduct an equity analysis of the first year of program implementation. Its goal was to evaluate program design and outcomes to ensure that the program was properly serving the most vulnerable residents and mitigating any racial disparities in program execution.

What were the key activities leading up to and following launch?

  • Conducting research into other successful models: During the design process, SPPD and Gulf Coast JFCS cite looking to successful alternative emergency response models for guidance on design and implementation. The CAHOOTS model in Eugene, Oregon served as particular inspiration.

  • Providing technical assistance sessions for potential implementation partners: After the release of the RFP, SPPD hosted several sessions to provide technical assistance (TA) to community-based organizations who were interested in submitting a proposal. The hope was to generate high-quality proposals and ensure that the partner most capable of operationalizing a successful model was selected.

  • Securing an implementation partner: After TA sessions and presentations from multiple finalists, SPPD selected Gulf Coast JFCS as the implementation partner for CALL. According to SPPD, they were selected because they are a local organization with local leadership, had existing relationships with community leaders and institutions in St. Petersburg, and presented a detailed implementation plan. SPPD also noted that JFCS demonstrated an ability to initiate services within 30 days, possessed pre-established follow-up planning capabilities and the ability to provide services related to multiple social, physical and emotional needs, and had experience providing on-the-street social services in crisis situations.

How was the approach funded?

  • Public funding: St. Petersburg City Council authorized $850,000 of funding for the initial 9-month pilot in January, 2022. In October of 2021, City Council made the CALL permanent, and expanded funding to $1.2 million annually via the city budget. The city committed $1.6 million per year in funding for CALL for 2024-2026.

  • National Football League “Inspire Change” social justice grant: In December 2022, the CALL program won a $200,000 grant from the National Football League, which awards funding to nonprofit organizations working to address systemic racism and affect positive change in various policy domains, including police and community relations. This funding allowed CALL to expand its team and address challenges identified in the first phase of equity analysis.

  • Other local philanthropic funding: CALL has received funding from local philanthropic partners, including from Bayfront Health, a local hospital system, and others. The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg also supported the program by providing funding to conduct the equity analysis.

How was the approach measured and refined?

  • Continuous program refinement and evolution: CALL program leadership emphasize that the program requires constant monitoring and refinement in order to stay abreast with changing community needs. Gulf Coast JFCS and SPPD leadership keep in constant communication with each other and with community stakeholders to allow them to nimbly identify newly arisen needs, implement changes to protocol or staffing, and establish relationships with needed services providers.

  • Model refinements based on Equity Analysis: The equity analysis, carried out by Dr. Edelyn Verona of the University of South Florida, has been the primary external analysis of the CALL program. The evaluation’s first phase aimed to examine if CALL reached target populations and delivered service without disparities across groups, including by race and ethnicity. The findings revealed that truancy and nonviolent youth disorderly calls were not being diverted to CALL as frequently as they could be, despite being good candidates for a social work response. The CALL program implemented reforms based on the outcomes of the study, including hiring a youth engagement specialist to enable CALL to better serve youth populations.

  • Ongoing efforts to improve: As of January 2024, CALL is partnering with the Council of State Governments to further develop opportunities for CALL to respond to calls related to youth. Additionally, Dr. Verona is conducting a second phase of the equity analysis, focused on qualitative feedback from residents who have been served by CALL.

Next Steps

For local leaders seeking to better serve vulnerable residents, non-police emergency response models like CALL represent a promising approach. The resources below are designed to help local leaders generate momentum toward the implementation of these programs.

Assess the need

Before beginning to implement a non-police emergency response model, local leaders should make sure they have a good understanding of the services needed by communities in their jurisdiction. One way to assess current conditions is to use the Urban Institute’s Mobility Metrics framework, which can show communities where they stand on indicators related to safety from trauma, just policing, and access to services.

Engage stakeholders

In St. Petersburg, Eugene, and Denver, among many other communities, extensive stakeholder engagement helped create the conditions for the successful implementation of non-police emergency response programs. Residents of affected neighborhoods and community-based organizations can help identify needs, inform program design, identify potential participants, and recruit credible staff. The Council of State Governments Justice Center provides guidance on how to effectively engage communities when developing a community responder program.

Make the case

Because alternative emergency response programs are a significant departure from traditional methods of emergency response (that rely on uniformed and often-armed officers), local leaders may encounter opposition to investments in these programs. To help persuade skeptics of the value of these approaches, local leaders should familiarize themselves with the evidence behind these strategines and the results they have generated. Identifying peer cities that have implemented a non-police emergency response mode, like those listed below, can help build public support.

Access tools

A selection of resources developed by researchers and practitioners in the non-police emergency response field are included below. These resources highlight best practices that can form a blueprint for communities interested in implementing an effective model.


Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their support in writing this case study: Megan McGee, Assistant Director - SPPD; Nicole Guincho - VP of Clinical Services, Gulf Coast JFCS; Tianna Audet - CALL Program Manager, Gulf Coast JFCS; Zulekha "Zee" Foulen - SPPD; John Muhammad - St. Petersburg City Council Member; Dr. Edelyn Verona - Professor and Co-Director, Center for Justice Research and Policy - University of South Florida; Tonya Mathis - CALL Navigator; Edith “Missy” Sapp - SPPD Emergency Communications Division; and Sergeant Todd Hancock - SPPD Police Assisting the Homeless Unit.

This case study was written by Leslie Grueber and Ross Tilchin.