Across the country, a handful of cities are rolling out new public safety services that respond to categories of 911 calls without involving police. These programs are inspired by a longstanding and successful program called CAHOOTS, which serves the cities of Eugune and Springfield in Oregon.
It turns out that a lot of 911 calls are not of the dangerous-crime-in-progress variety. In San Francisco, "nonviolent psychiatric and behavioral crisis calls ... account for 25% or more of all police calls for service," which goes higher when including complaints related to homelessness. In Portland, OR, more 911 calls are made about "unwanted persons" than any other reason. Moreover, there is evidence that the model police departments have adopted around the country to deal with mental health calls - Crisis Intervention Teams - is simply not working.
These new public safety services are seizing on these facts and creating an unarmed, health-focused response for categories of 911 calls.
In Minneapolis, 2019's 911 Workgroup investigated some of the same dynamics and produced a report that contained a mix of recommendations centering on similar ideas of "alternate response." It considers both options of creating a new mental health response through the Fire Department, and/or expanding the "co-responder" program in which a mental health professional responds alongside Police.
In November of 2020, Minneapolis saw two new proposals emerge for a new, 24/7 citywide mental health 911 response service. Neither is technical about which call codes would be involved, however one states that "mental health crisis calls ... are the third most common top-priority category; 80% of them are non-life-threatening, and only 9% of them result in a police report." Both proposals envision unarmed mental health professionals and paramedics responding, without police.
The main difference is the size of funding: the People's Budget proposal is a $4.5M budget, which is similar to some other cities (above) where the program is about 2% of the city's police budget. In contrast, Safety for All proposes a $2.44M budget, only about 1% of the MPD budget.
For more exploration of these proposals, view the safety plans visualization
The city of Minneapolis' Office of Violence Prevention (within the Health Department) operates programs that use public health knowledge to prevent violence outside of the Police Department. Increasing funding to these programs was one of the key demands made by community members urging a shift of funds away from policing back in 2018.
Looking forward, Mayor Frey's proposed 2021 budget includes:
Others have suggested additional violence prevention programs, including:
Advocates of defunding police, aka police abolition, point to root causes that go deeper than those addressed by these programs: poverty, housing, mental health, addiction, pollution, patriarchy, capitalism... Our point is often that a focus on certain immediate harms, either in our discussions or in our budget documents, obscures root problems that will perpetually yield those immediate harms as symptoms. This expands the question of "what replaces policing?" to a much broader set of ideas.
Just one example of a program that attempts to reduce harm before it reaches the level of emergency response is Southside Harm Reduction Services (full disclosure: I'm a donor). SHRS distributes naloxone to prevent overdoses and clean syringes to prevent the spread of disease. They do street outreach and education among people who use substances.