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Los Angeles police union proposes limits on 911 responses


LOS ANGELES– The Los Angeles Police Department’s grassroots union is proposing that someone other than the police answer more than two dozen types of 911 calls in a bid to shift the workload from officers to more crimes serious. The move is part of a national trend to limit situations where armed police are the first to respond.

The proposal announced Wednesday by the Los Angeles Police Protective League lists 28 types of 911 calls where other city agencies or nonprofits would be sent first. The appeals range from mental health situations, quality of life and homelessness issues, problems in schools and welfare checks, to certain non-fatal traffic collisions, parking violations, waste dumps , noisy parties, public intoxication and begging.

The league said officers would respond if the situation turned violent or criminal in nature, but only after the initial call was made to another agency or affiliated nonprofit.

“The police are not psychologists. We are not psychiatrists. We are not mental health experts. We are not social workers, doctors, nurses or waste management experts,” Debbie Thomas, one of the union’s directors, told a press conference on Wednesday. “I think a lot of people think we should be all of those things, but we’re not. We should focus on responding to emergencies, saving lives (and) property and, of course, engaging in community policing. »

Police Chief Michel Moore said he welcomed the union’s push for “an alternative non-law enforcement response to non-emergency calls”.

Moore said the department worked with elected officials to establish a support network of resources, including mobile therapy vans and a mental health crisis hotline.

“These emerging alternatives have already diverted thousands of calls from a police response, allowing officers to focus on our most essential business,” Moore said in a statement.

Cities like San Francisco, San Diego, and New York — as well as Los Angeles — already have programs in place where clinicians either pair up with agents or work in civilian teams to respond to 911 calls involving someone in need. mental health crisis.

The changes came amid greater scrutiny of law enforcement in the United States following the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. This included examining how police handles mental health and other appeals that do not include violence or crime.

Los Angeles’ proposal comes during the union’s contract negotiations with the city and amid pleas by activists to reduce or eliminate armed responses to certain situations. City council and the mayor’s office will be involved in the final decision, the union said.

Activists have long called on LAPD to stop responding to some mental health calls, minor traffic collisions and encounters at homeless encampments, pointing to times when officers shot people during the answer.

Mayor Karen Bass’ office did not immediately comment on Wednesday. Bass promised during his campaign to create a Public Safety Bureau that would not include the LAPD.

Hugh Esten, spokesman for City Council Speaker Paul Krekorian, said the union’s proposal will be given serious consideration as city officials work to “ensure sworn staff are deployed where it is really necessary and that unarmed responders deal with situations where an armed response is necessary”. useless.”

With staff dwindling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the union said its proposal would free up officers to respond to bigger calls — such as violent crime — and allow cops to engage in more police duty. community police to establish better relations with the inhabitants of the city.

Other cities have also experimented with similar models, such as Portland, Oregon, where unarmed “public support specialists” collect reports of things like vehicle break-ins and bike thefts.

In 2021, the LAPD launched a pilot program to divert some mental health calls to service providers. The department also has dual-response teams that pair officers with clinicians in situations involving mental health crises and homelessness, as well as domestic violence and abuse.

Also in 2021, the LAPD stopped responding to minor traffic accidents; a deputy chief at the time said the change would eliminate agents answering about 40,000 calls a year.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.