Community Emergency Responders for 911 & Other Public Safety Calls – Senate File 2403

Community Emergency Responders for 911& Other Public Safety Calls – Senate File 2403We can save lives and provide authentic help for people in crisis by using professionals who are best trained to address the situations they face.

Under this proposal, cities or counties would receive matching state funds as an incentive to create Community Emergency Response Teams to provide medical, mental health or other supportive resources to people in crisis and other situations where police are not the most appropriate responders.

For example, we should send mental health professionals to calls involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, chemical dependency or other health care professionals to assist persons experiencing problems related to overdoses or substance abuse, social workers to situations involving people experiencing homelessness, and investigators to deal with counterfeit money or expired license tabs and other minor traffic offenses. By using the proper professionals such as mental health experts, social workers, or EMTs to respond, communities can better serve the public, save money, and reduce the number of police and community clashes.

This proposal addresses one aspect of policing reform that has not received much attention until late. It would significantly reduce the number of situations where minor problems escalate into deadly outcomes when police arrive, instead of more-appropriately trained professionals.*

If there is a safety concern, the community response professionals can call upon law enforcement. However, this is rarely needed. In a similar program in Eugene Oregon, less than one percent of the calls referred to them required police assistance. I introduced Senate File 2403 to provide state funds to assist local governments who shift some emergency responses from law enforcement to alternative professionals. These alternative responders would triage initial 911 calls and send the properly trained crisis workers for issues such as drug overdoses, mental health crises or for people experiencing homelessness who need assistance.

George Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Instead of armed police showing up on the scene, we would have avoided a tragic killing if an investigator contacted him to find out where the money came from. This type of response would potentially lead to information to shut down a counterfeiting operation and it might also identify a person in crisis.

Daunte Wright was pulled over for expired license tabs. There are better ways to collect vehicle registration fees and penalties for expired tabs than to have armed police officers pull over the vehicle – even in the vast majority of such cases that don’t end in a police shooting. We want an appropriate response for each 911 call. In most cases, the appropriate response is not armed police officers.

*An alternative community responder program in Eugene, Oregon has been providing services for over thirty years, reducing their law enforcement costs by four or five dollars for every dollar invested. Of the 24,000 calls they respond to each year, less than 1% require police assistance, and nobody has ever been seriously injured from the work.

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