Sending mental health workers as first responders to mental health issues is way better than sending workers with other specialities. This may sound obvious, but for decades in the USA and Canada we’ve been sending police (armed with guns) to help people in distress. Some cities in the USA have reallocated police funding to social workers with great success, and thanks to the efforts of movements like BLM more cities are following suit. New York City is one such city and unsurprisingly their results are similar to other cities where police have been defunded.
The movement to defund the police, then put those funds into social services is clearly working.
In 95% of cases, people accepted care from the B-HEARD team, data from the city shows. That’s compared with 82% for traditional 911 response teams, which include police.
Additionally, 50% of people treated by B-HEARD were transported to the hospital for more care, a far lower number than the 82% who are transported to the hospital with traditional 911 response.
Over at Vox they’ve collected a few solutions to problems that people may traditionally want to call the police for. It’s quite strange to call the police to help people in mental health crisis when the police are better equipped to take on armed bank robbers. It’s also strange that the police handle traffic violations while we also call them to investigate murder. It doesn’t have to be this way, we can do better and we know how.
People often decide to call the police because someone in their area appears to be intoxicated or in some kind of mental health crisis. One 2017 study of Camden, New Jersey, for example, found that 7 percent of calls were related to some mental or behavioral health need, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP).
But police are not trained to address mental health or substance use issues, and calling them can lead to a person in crisis being arrested and jailed, rather than getting the medical treatment they may need, as Amos Irwin and Betsy Pearl write at CAP. Several police killings in recent years — like the fatal shootings of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, last fall — happened when law enforcement officers encountered someone having a mental health crisis.
Instead of police, a growing number of cities have crisis response teams composed of social workers, counselors, and others trained to help people with mental health or substance problems. In Eugene, Oregon, for example, a program called Cahoots sends trained specialists to help people deal with crises involving mental health or substance use, and refers them to further services or treatment, as Roge Karma reported at Vox.
I find it baffling that the same organization which investigates murders also spends their time directing traffic. Others find this problematic too. Thanks to the strong efforts of Black Lives Matter over the past years (and in Canada let’s not forget Idle No More) calls to defund the police by reallocating funding to services which help people have grown substantially. Many cities are noticing vast improvements in their communities once they change which departments they fund, and now Ithaca is looking to do the same. The approach that Ithaca is taking may be one of the most noteworthy yet.
“IPD currently spends one third of its time responding to calls for service that essentially never lead to arrests,” Myrick writes in the report’s introduction. “Those calls, as well as a majority of patrol activity, can and should be handled by unarmed Community Solution Workers well trained in de-escalation and service delivery. This will allow our new Public Safety Workers to focus on preventing, interrupting and solving serious crime.”
Now, he’s investing his political capital in a plan that would remove armed officers from most civilian interactions, which he said should free those who remain to fully investigate and solve serious crimes. “The investigators are going to be focused on the shooting last Tuesday, they will have nothing on their plate except finding that gun, finding that shooter and taking them off the street,” he said. “They won’t be pulled away from that work by a motor vehicle crash on 3rd Street or a welfare check on Madison.”
The city of Denver was already planning to limit the scope of the police before the calls for defunding gained momentum the start of this year. Denver accelerated their plans though, and the results are already so promising that other cities should start copying what Denver has done. Instead of sending out armed forces to help people cope with mental issues, the city is sending out mental health workers. This means that the people who need help are getting it, and the police can do something else.
Since its launch June 1, the STAR van has responded to more than 350 calls, replacing police in matters that don’t threaten public safety and are often connected to unmet mental or physical needs. The goal is to connect people who pose no danger with services and resources while freeing up police to respond to other calls. The team, which is not armed, has not called police for backup, Sailon said.
“We’re really trying to create true alternatives to us using police and jails,” said Vinnie Cervantes with Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, one of the organizations that helped start the program.
Though it had been years in the making, the program launched just four days after protests erupted in Denver calling for transformational changes to policing in response to the death of George Floyd.
“It really kind of proves that we’ve been working for the right thing, and that these ideas are getting the recognition they should,” Cervantes said.
In my life team I have seen nearly every public service get defunded except the police, meaning people who would otherwise be housed, have mental care, or otherwise not be neglected end up in confrontations with the police. This is not working well for anybody. Yet defunding the police is an idea that people reject.
A website was built this past summer which showcases the absurd amount of money we give to the police throughout North America compared to social services that can actually help people.
The city of Toronto spends just over 25% of taxpayer dollars on funding the police. That’s a cost of $1.13 billion dollars.
This is comparable to the tax dollars spent on public transportation, the library, children services and public health combined.
Toronto is spending just under $3.3 million dollars per day on police services.
Toronto police are present in some—not all—schools in the Toronto Catholic School Board.