Time to Establish a New Community- Based Public Safety Program to Address Non- Criminal Matters

Today I co-authored a measure directing city agencies to report on establishing a community-based public safety program to respond to calls on noncriminal matters involving mental health and homelessness.  

Everyday LAPD officers respond to non-criminal calls because we simply don't have any other mechanism to immediately address these needs. It’s unfair to ask officers to do the job of a social or public health worker and it’s wrong to perpetuate the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness. The time is now to rethink how we use our resources to meet these needs and get healthy outcomes.

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, such as responding to calls involving drug overdoses or mental health crises. These are calls for which an armed, uniformed response may not be most effective. Responding to these calls takes officers away from regular patrol duties and impacts their ability to respond to other calls for service. Such calls might be better managed by civilian responders who are specially trained in handling noncriminal issues.

Cities such as Eugene, Oregon have been deploying first responders who are not police officers to address noncriminal 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 noncriminal disturbances. This model has been cost effective for Eugene, and has saved the City approximately $8.5 Million from 2014 to 2017, and only accounts for one percent of the Eugene Police Department’s budget. By reallocating health workers to handle noncriminal calls for service, CAHOOTS has responded to 17 percent of the Department’s overall calls, and only needed armed police assistance on one percent of calls.

Encounters between the LAPD and persons with mental illnesses are among the highest instances of shootings, as documented in the LAPD’s 2018 Use of Force Year End Review. The most recent figures report 37 percent of the suspects in officer-involved shootings were perceived to suffer from a mental illness, a nine percent increase from 2017. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve listened to the diverse voices who’ve organized and participated in inspiring demonstrations throughout our city and I’ve also heard from many constituents who are fearful that adopting such policies could be dangerous. We have a long way to go in addressing institutional racism and other systemic issues that have kept too many vulnerable Angelenos from getting the help they need. But it all starts with taking concrete steps in the right direction.

Councilmember Herb Wesson, Council President Nury Martinez and my motion specifically directs the City Administrative Officer, with the assistance of the Commission on Health and the Police Department, to report on the feasibility of establishing such a program and figure out how to best partner with the LA County Public Health Department.

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