City Councilors Lydia Edwards (District 1), Michelle Wu (At-Large), and Julia Mejia (At-Large) proposed a system that would direct non-violent emergency 911 calls away from law enforcement and toward a public safety response team.
This proposal comes in the midst of racial injustice protests that continue across the Commonwealth following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Under this system, situations involving traffic crashes, mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness would be responded to by healthcare professionals or outreach workers.
“This is not a ‘replace the police’ conversation. This is how do we increase safety in the most community-based and -centered way,” said Councilor Edwards during the City Council weekly meeting on Wednesday.
As demands for police reform grow, this ordinance would limit law enforcement response to situations that disproportionately involve certain racial and ethnic minorities. It would require the City to create a “systemic crisis-response plan” within 90 days that would connect non-violent, non-criminal emergency calls to unarmed service providers with specialized training. This would include healthcare workers, mental health providers, and homelessness outreach workers.
The proposal comes after conversations with Hope Coleman, the mother of Terrence Coleman, who died in October 2016 after being shot by a police officer. The 31-year-old black man suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. The altercation was a result of his mother calling 911 for an ambulance for her son.
“We’re talking about, actually, the fact that police are asked to do too much,” said Councilor Edwards. “They’re asked to be mental health counselors, youth workers, marriage counselors. They’re asked to deal with all sorts of different things and, in many cases, they don’t have the training for it and other cases they shouldn’t be doing it.”
Similar alternative emergency mechanisms exist in several jurisdictions across the country, such as in New Orleans and Miami, and has proven a reduction in arrests and costs associated with transportation and hospitalization.