The city of Minneapolis should consider expanding the roles of counselors, traffic officers and community service patrols in certain low-risk 911 calls, according to a group tasked with finding alternatives to police involvement in some emergency responses.
The city’s 911/Police Department made up of city officials and community members, presented its findings at this week’s meeting of the Public Safety & Emergency Management Committee, which accepted the recommendations without saying how it planned to proceed. Some in the coalition asked for more time to study other options.
Among the recommendations put forward this week: explore a pilot program modeled on a successful effort in Eugene, Ore. — called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, it’s already in use or being considered in places like Denver, Oakland and New York City — that pairs paramedics with counselors on certain mental health calls; assigning parking-related calls to Traffic Control, and having community service officers, who are unarmed, respond to low-risk traffic calls and other urgent, but non-emergency, situations; directing theft reports to 311 or the department’s website; and developing a nonemergency mental health telephone help line.
Next steps should include using “predictive analytics” to better define what constitutes a “low-risk” call, the group said, since some emergencies, notably those involving weapons, require a police response under state law. Ward 13 City Council member Linea Palmisano of the city’s southwest side cautioned that like the other proposals, this will require substantial additional funding, as well as gaining buy-in from Minneapolis police administration, the police union and outside agencies.
Palmisano, who sits on Public Safety, said she was encouraged by the group’s progress, while pointing out that some of its proposals need fleshing out.
The findings come amid a high-pitched debate over police resources, fueled in recent months by videos showing people being violently assaulted and robbed after leaving downtown bars, and the disclosure that a high number of emergency calls get no immediate response.
Several speakers on Wednesday called the group’s work a promising step, but said there is still work to be done.
“We are here basically asking for an extension so that there is more time for us to do work,” said Michelle Gross, founder of Communities Against Police Brutality, a criminal justice reform group.
Her appeal was echoed in a letter from the work group to committee members.
“We respect the intention behind the inclusion of community members in this work group, and it also must be noted that a more diverse mix of individuals would have created a more representative group,” the letter read. “We believe a work group with treat and equal — or a majority — community representation could help to steer real systems change.”
For months, the group has considered alternatives to calling police for issues like purse snatchings and traffic violations, or situations in which mental health is involved; such calls would instead be diverted to agencies that proponents say are better suited to handle them, without criminalizing those involved, thereby freeing up officers to respond to more serious emergencies.
Kathy Czech, a longtime advocate of mental illness treatment, said that ever since federal funding for mental health programs started drying up in the 1980s, police have been forced into the role of caretaker. Yet, even with special training, officers aren’t always equipped to deal with mentally ill individuals, for whom jail is just a “revolving door” to trouble, she said.
“This is no discredit to the police — they do an awesome job, they’re just not trained for this,” said Czech.
Also considered was a proposal to expand the department’s co-responder unit, which pairs officers with mental health counselors in all five of the city’s police precincts, to after-hours and weekends. But, some group members voiced reservations about adding more police officers, which goes against the group’s mandate to come up with non-police solutions, Andrea Larson, the city’s director of strategic management.
“There are concerns that this does not address the staff direction; in fact it would be the investment of five new MPD police officers,” Larson said in her presentation. The proposal’s first-year cost is about $1.3 million.
Emotionally Disturbed Persons, or EDP calls, make up roughly 3% of all 911 responses, while accounting for between 5-10% of the amount of time officers spend on calls, according to data compiled by the work group.
A police spokesman said that most of the department’s 800-plus officers have gone through the full crisis intervention training course. About 100 officers, most of whom are assigned to investigative and specialty units, are expected to do so next year, he said.
Even as crime rates have steadily dropped, MPD officials say that more officers are needed as the department is increasingly swamped with calls arising from social factors out of their control, like poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and isolation. Not only do response times suffer, officials say, but the heavy workloads also taking a physical and psychological toll on police. Deputy Chief Kathy Waite, who has championed a more nuanced approach to mental health crisis calls, attended the presentation, but did not speak. She was later joined by assistant chief Mike Kjos and Sean McGinty, the recently-promoted inspector of the 3rd Precinct.
Committee members also heard a presentation about Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) a promising diversion program started in Seattle to steer low-level drug users away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment. A University of Washington study found that the program, which is being used by law enforcement agencies in more than 40 jurisdictions around the U.S., appears to have reduced recidivism rates dramatically among its participants.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany
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Published at Thu, 14 Nov 2019 16:00:53 +0000