Events are happening faster than we can write articles on, so we’re switching to a summary format for some articles.
Thanks to Kathleen for these articles.
This program sends a social worker on 911 calls about mental health
A pilot program in Dallas found a better way of helping people who call 911 for mental health emergencies than simply putting them in jail or dropping them off at the ER.
Talib Visram, Fast Company, June 9, 2020
If you call 911 in certain neighborhoods in Dallas, a licensed specialist at the dispatch center will determine if the call relates to a mental health crisis. If it does, it won’t just be the police that respond to the call. Instead, a team led by a mental health professional will show up and try to defuse the situation, hopefully leading to an outcome that doesn’t result in violence, incarceration, or unnecessary hospitalization.
Started in a single district of the city, the program, called the RIGHT (Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team) Care program, diverts emergency 911 calls that are evidently mental health-related from the police to social workers and paramedics, is soon to expand citywide, given its success in reducing unnecessary arrests and freeing up resources for overrun hospitals.
At its core, the program allows individuals with mental health problems to be treated as patients, rather than suspects. “Mental healthcare is a medical need, not a law enforcement issue,” says B.J. Wagner, senior director of smart justice at Dallas’s Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which created the program, based on a similar one in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “But we had not yet crafted a solution that embraced that.”
Previously, the police would respond to all 911 calls, often to the detriment of those reaching out with mental health emergencies. “When a police officer is on scene, he’s trained to do two things,” Wagner says, “make an arrest or take somebody to a hospital.” That meant that chronically mentally ill people were just going to jail or to the ER, to the point where the hospitals were over capacity and didn’t have enough resources to care for them. And repeat calls for the same person were endemic. The quick fix wasn’t helping these people in the long term.
For RIGHT Care to happen, it needed buy-in from different entities. After a full year of research, and a grant from the W.W. Caruth Foundation, Meadows got approval from Parkland, the Dallas County hospital, as well as the Dallas police and fire rescue departments, and it launched in January 2018. Each entity is represented in the program: each RIGHT Care team consists of a social worker from Parkland, a police officer, and a paramedic (in Dallas, the fire department is the paramedic authority). “To get three of the largest agencies in the county together to agree and to work on this program together, it took some very good coordination,” says Kurtis Young, Parkland’s director of social work.
When a licensed clinician at the dispatch center assesses that there’s a mental health emergency, the “mobile mental healthcare unit” of three responders is sent to the scene to respond accordingly. The police officer is on scene for safety purposes, and the paramedic to check for physical injuries. But the scene is the social worker’s jurisdiction, and they decide the best form of treatment. She may decide to check up with the individual’s case worker, then take them to the pharmacy to refill a prescription, to a food pantry for a meal, or to a same-day appointment at a hospital—”and be home for dinner that night with their family, instead of confined involuntarily to a hospital,” Wagner says.
Whatever the case, the decision is made by a licensed worker who has years of experience—which police don’t have. Wagner is a former police officer, but she is also a mental health clinician with a master’s in clinical neuropsychology. She received 3,600 hours of classroom instruction on the topic; a police officer might have taken a 40-hour crash course. “He should not be giving mental health advice, he should not be making treatment or diagnostic decisions,” she says. “I wouldn’t want a police officer making that decision for my loved one.”
Since its launch in 2018, the program has specifically served South Central Dallas, an area whose population is predominantly black and has high levels of unemployed and uninsured people. It’s a particular hotspot for repeat mental health calls, the highest in Dallas. “When you meet a vulnerable population, and find out what keeps them calling 911 [over and over], and you address that, entire worlds can change,” Wagner says. The team also does follow-ups, to ensure people are on the mend, and that they’ve been taking their prescribed medicines—and to try and find financial or access solutions if not.
The data shows the progress: Between pre-launch and 2019, admittance to the ER decreased by 9% in the targeted zip codes, while it increased in the rest of the city. Arrests dropped by 8%, while they went up in neighboring ones of a similar socioeconomic status. Just 2% of the RIGHT Care calls led to arrests, and the repeat call rate is less than 7%.
The grant ended May 31, but it’s a testament to the program’s success that it is continuing, with plans to expand to the entire city of Dallas. (The expansion was planned for this month, but that’s been hampered by coronavirus.)
In the current context of policing reform and alternatives, the program could serve as a model for the departments around the country. Both Abilene, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, have now started their own version of the programs. And other cities are taking lessons from it while trying different tactics: Houston, for example, has installed clinicians in 911 dispatch and is aiming to solve mental health calls virtually, without the need to deploy an officer.
“Why are we tied to this fascination of delivering mental healthcare through a law enforcement officer?” Wagner asks. “There is no dignity in that, and people living with chronic mental healthcare needs deserve better.”
These cities have begun defunding police in the wake of George Floyd protests
Danielle Wallace | Fox News, June 9, 2020
As the final of three memorial services for George Floyd began Monday in his hometown of Houston, protests that happen in his name are continuing across the country, with the Black Lives Matter movement now advocating to #AbolishPolice.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Monday is expected to unveil new legislation aimed at defunding police departments across the country.
Though, a recent poll conducted by YouGov found “despite calls by activists and protesters to defund police departments, most Americans do not support reducing law enforcement budgets.” Just 16 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans said they were in favor of the idea.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Sunday went against the city council, reiterating that he does not support abolishing the city’s police force after Floyd died in custody May 25 after white officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Frey, instead, vowed to work relentlessly with Chief Medaria Arradondo and the community “toward deep, structural reform and addressing systemic racism in police culture.” He also said he would put the city’s powerful police union “in its place,” but fell short of promising to dismantle the force.
Nine city council members, including Jeremiah Ellison, the son of state Attorney General Keith Ellison, who declared his support for Antifa, spoke at a protest in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park earlier Sunday to commit “to end policing as we know it and recreate systems that actually keep us safe.”
“Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department,” Council President Lisa Bender said. “It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe. Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”
As protests against police brutality and racial injustice garner momentum, here are some changes officials have proposed at the state, local and federal level aimed at defunding the police and instituting other reforms:
House and Senate Democrats on Monday are expected to unveil the new “Justice in Policing Act of 2020,” which includes major overhauls for how police officers around the country will do their jobs.
It includes prohibiting the use of chokeholds, lowering legal standards to pursue criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct, and banning certain no-knock warrants, NPR reported, citing a Democratic congressional aide.
“These are commonsense changes that, frankly, will create a far greater level of accountability for those police officers who violate the law, who violate our rights and who violate our common community standards,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. told NPR on Sunday.
The plan was developed by Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Judiciary Committee.
“Persistent, unchecked bias in policing and a history of lack of accountability is wreaking havoc on the black community. Cities are literally on fire with the pain and anguish wrought by the violence visited upon black and brown bodies,” the bill’s sponsors wrote in a letter to colleagues Saturday. “While there is no single policy prescription that will erase the decades of systemic racism and excessive policing – it’s time we create structural change with meaningful reforms.”
Though Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have recognized “egregious wrongs,” in police brutality cases, GOP lawmakers were not included in the drafting of the bill and, therefore, are expected to initially oppose the measure.
“I think we can easily find common ground on both sides and we can do it swiftly, but it’s more difficult if you’re away,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday. “Members of Congress should not be called back for one week and say, ‘Here are all the bills.'”
New York City:
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday he would accede to protesters’ demands by moving to shift funds away from the NYPD toward youth and social services.
De Blasio, whose already contemptuous relationship with the NYPD has only worsened as critics say he failed to get a handle on civil unrest following Floyd’s death, did not go into detail on how much money would be allocated away from the police force.
He vowed to announce specifics before the July 1 budget deadline. The NYPD currently has a $6 billion annual budget – about 6 percent of de Blasio’s proposed $90 billion budget for the city.
“We’re committed to seeing a shift of funding to youth services, to social services, that will happen literally in the course of the next three weeks, but I’m not going to go into detail because it is subject to negotiation and we want to figure out what makes sense,” the mayor said Sunday.
The latest reforms were developed by the mayor’s task force on racial inclusion and equity, which is co-chaired by his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black.
Besides shifting funds from the NYPD to youth and social services, the changes also include moving the enforcement for street vending out of the NYPD to a civilian agency, and creating community ambassadors to the NYPD to act as liaisons between officers and civilians, WCBS-TV reported.
“People did not protest for the sake of protest. They protest to achieve change, and now we must deliver that change,” de Blasio said in his news briefing.
He said community ambassadors would be “people from the community, civilians deeply steeped in their communities with the ability to bring the concerns of the community to the highest levels of the NYPD, to bring back answers, including the status on disciplinary cases and changes in policing that needs to be done to allow better policing, fairer policing.”
The mayor did not address demands made by dozens of employees in his own Office of Criminal Justice on Saturday. They proposed several police reforms, including a move to criminalize the use of chokeholds by officers, which would make it easier for district attorneys to prosecute infractions. De Blasio refused to sign the measure without an exemption for members of law enforcement in life-threatening situations, the New York Times reported.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he tasked the city to “identify $250 million in cuts” to invest more money into the black community, communities of color, women and “people who have been left behind.”
The Los Angeles Times reported the city will try and cut between $100 million to $150 million from its police budget alone.
“While our work for racial justice begins in L.A., it must echo throughout our state and across our nation. I will keep working with leaders in Sacramento and D.C. to advance legislation that protects black lives and communities of color long denied equity in our laws,” Garcetti tweeted on Friday.
The mayor also announced he would launch the city’s new Civil and Human Rights Department and Civil and Human Rights Commission this summer to “protect anyone who lives, works in or visits L.A. from discrimination or denial of equal treatment in private employment, housing, education or commerce.”
Garcetti said he supported the work done by members of the California black caucus to “restore voting rights to those serving parole, improve emergency response services for historically neglected communities, and seek reparations for the impact of slavery.”
He also said he was working with Sens. Harris and Booker, and Rep. Karen Bass, whose congressional district includes Los Angeles, to “pursue a national standard on the use of force, independent federal investigations of police brutality, and consent decrees on departments with a pattern of brutality and discrimination.”
Nine members of the Minneapolis City Council said before a crowd Sunday that they supported defunding the city’s police department and replacing it with a community-based public safety model.
Nine council members is enough to override any veto from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Though any significant moves to disband the Minneapolis Police Department or alter its funding will likely require a public vote on the matter to change its charter, Fox 9 reported.
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender, Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, and Council members Alondra Cano, Jeremiah Ellison, Steve Fletcher, Cam Gordon and Jeremy Schroeder were among the council members making the announcement Sunday at a rally organized by Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block.
“This council is going to dismantle this police department,” Ellison said.
Later Sunday, Frey he said does not support abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department but would work with Chief Medaria Arradondo and the community “toward deep, structural reform and addressing systemic racism in police culture.”
“We’re ready to dig in and enact more community-led, public safety strategies on behalf of our city. But, I do not support abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department,” the mayor said.
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose congressional district includes Minneapolis, has voiced her support for the council members’ plan.
“No one is advocating for lawlessness. No one is advocating for our community to be in danger or crime to happen in Minneapolis without there being accountability,” Omar said. “This is an opportunity for us to get rid of a system that was built not to provide safety and serve and to start to put into place a system that does provide that safety.