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Department of Health Services

Behavioral Health Division

Guidelines for Effective Communication With 911 Dispatch

One of the hardest things a family may have to do is call the police when their loved one is behaving in an unsafe manner. These guidelines may help you in this moment of crisis.

If you have a loved one with a serious mental health condition, there may be times when their behavior creates a danger to themselves or others. For the safety of both your loved one and your family, police intervention may be required. You may expect that your loved one will feel scared or even betrayed by your decision, even though you are ultimately acting for their best good. The police officers, EMT's and County Mental Health workers understand this bigger picture and are there to support you in making the hard choice.

Role of Law Enforcement

The primary function of the Peace Officer is to serve and protect the community at large. When called upon to intervene with your family, they will make an assessment of the level of danger present and use the minimum amount of force necessary to contain that threat and restore safety. The more information they have prior to engaging your family member, the better equipped they will be to negotiate a favorable outcome.

Stay Calm

If you speak to the Dispatcher in a stressed or frantic way, the police will come into the situation escalated, anticipating the need for a possible rescue. This may result in a more forceful intervention. If you desire a softer approach from law enforcement, then speak calmly and clearly to the Dispatcher, communicating relevant background and situation information.

Call 911 Away from the Family Member

You do not want to agitate them or make them feel threatened. If possible, excuse yourself from the room to make the call. Ask the police to come without lights or sirens. They will then determine if this is possible.

Ask Them to Evaluate for a 5150

Section 5150 is a section of California's Welfare and Institutions Code which allows a qualified officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person deemed to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to his or her self, and/or others and/or gravely disabled. Give the police all the information needed to evaluate for a 5150. Describe the specific behaviors that are causing you concern.

Identify Yourself and Your Relationship to the Situation

Are you the primary caregiver for your loved one or do they live independently? How frequent is your contact with your loved one? Is this the first crisis intervention or have there been others? Are there casemanagers/doctors involved?

Explain Why the Person is in Danger

The family member is decompensating and the behavior is not typical for them. Decompensation means the inability to maintain defense mechanisms in response to stress, resulting in personality disturbance or psychological imbalance. Give examples to dispatch: not eating, not bathing, suicidal, aggressive, etc.

Know Your Rights

If the individual is putting you or themselves in danger, police need to step in and help. You have the right to ask for help.


Ask for their badge number, names of officers and their supervisors. Give feedback to the officers about what worked for your family and what did not.

Keep Yourself Safe

You will be the one speaking to police when they arrive. Your safety is as important as your loved one's.

Stay on the Line

While on the phone with the dispatcher, EMERGENCY help is being dispatched. Staying on the line, if asked to do so, will NOT delay help from responding.

911 Emergency Scripts

These scripts can help guide your call to 911.