Reimagining Public Safety with Unarmed Crisis Responder Program

In July 2020, the City Council voted for a measure to direct city agencies to report on establishing a community-based public safety program to respond to calls on nonviolent matters involving mental health and homelessness. This measure was initiated and co-authored by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, Council President Nury Martinez, and Councilmembers Herb Wesson, Curren Price Jr., and Marqueece Harris-Dawson. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has made significant investments in training officers so they are able to perform community-oriented duties that may fall outside the parameters of traditional policing. However, there are still many non-violent 911 calls involving drug overdoses, mental health crises, etc. that could be better handled by an unarmed civilian responder who is specially trained in handling these issues. This would potentially result in a lower possibility of the situation escalating into violence and a higher probability of a successful resolution. And, it would enable the LAPD to focus on its core objective of stopping and solving crimes. 

Cities such as Eugene, Oregon have been deploying unarmed responders to address nonviolent disturbances such as mental health calls for over 30 years. Their Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS) Program is a free, 24/7 community service model that deploys a medical and a mental health worker trained in trauma-informed de-escalation to nonviolent disturbances. This model has been cost effective for Eugene, and has saved that City millions and only accounts for one percent of the Eugene Police Department’s budget. By reallocating health workers to handle nonviolent calls for service, CAHOOTS has responded to 17 percent of the Department’s overall calls, and only needed armed police assistance for less than one percent of the calls.  Blumenfield helped educate Angelenos about the possibility of a CAHOOTS inspired program in Los Angeles through a virtual townhall where he brought in Eugene’s Police Chief and a CAHOOTS expert, click here for video. 

At the moment and at Blumenfield’s urging, City Departments are drafting a Request for Proposal (RFP) to identify to most qualified nonprofits to help the City run a program like this in Los Angeles and money has been set aside in the Budget to make it happen. Stay tuned for more updates.