To shift officers’ burden to more severe crimes, the rank-and-file union of the Los Angeles Police Department has proposed that someone other than police respond to more than two dozen different sorts of 911 calls.
The action is part of a national movement to reduce the circumstances in which armed police officers are the first to arrive.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League’s plan, unveiled on Wednesday, outlines 28 different 911 calls for which other municipal departments or nonprofit organizations should be contacted first.
The calls cover various topics, including mental health issues, problems with the homeless and quality of life, school issues, welfare checks, some non-fatal traffic incidents, parking infractions, trash dumping, noisy parties, public intoxication, and panhandling.
According to the league, officers would only arrive if the incident turned violent or criminal and only after the initial contact had been routed through another agency or a connected NGO.
Psychologists are not police officers. We do not practice psychiatry. We are not specialists in mental health.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Debbie Thomas, one of the union’s directors, said, “We are not social workers, doctors, nurses, or waste management experts.
“Many people believe we ought to be all those things, but we are not. Emergency response, protecting lives and property, and community policing should be our top priorities.
The union’s call for “an alternate non-law enforcement service response to non-emergency calls” was praised by police chief Michel Moore.
According to Moore, the department has collaborated with elected officials to create a network of resources, including mobile therapy vans and a hotline for mental health emergencies.
“These developing options have already diverted thousands of calls away from a police response, allowing officers to focus on our most important activities,” Moore said in a statement.
Cities like San Francisco, San Diego, New York, and Los Angeles have already put in place programs whereby psychologists are paired with police officers or work in civilian teams to react to 911 calls involving people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
The adjustments were made due to a closer examination of American law enforcement following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
This included examining how police respond to calls involving mental health issues and other situations devoid of violence or criminal activity.
The Los Angeles idea comes as the union and the city are negotiating a contract and responding to activists’ demands to scale back or do away with armed responses in some circumstances.
The union stated that the mayor’s office and the City Council would weigh in on the decision.
In light of instances in which cops fatally shot people while responding to calls for mental health services, minor traffic accidents, and encounters in homeless camps, activists have long urged the Los Angeles Police Department to stop doing so.
The office of mayor Karen Bass declined to react right away on Wednesday. During her candidacy, Bass pledged to establish a public safety office without the LAPD.
The union’s proposal will be seriously considered, according to Hugh Esten, a spokesman for City Council President Paul Krekorian.
The city is working to “ensure that sworn personnel are deployed where they are truly needed and that unarmed responders address those situations where an armed response is unnecessary,” Esten said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic’s reduced personnel, the union said that its proposal would free up officers to attend to more urgent calls, such as violent crime, and let law enforcement engage in more community policing to foster better ties with city citizens.
Similar methods have been tested in several other places, including Portland, Oregon, where unarmed “public support experts” collect crime reports, including car break-ins and bicycle thefts.
The LAPD started a trial program in 2021 to direct some calls about mental health to assistance providers.
Dual-response teams, which combine officers with therapists in cases involving mental health emergencies, those experiencing homelessness, and domestic violence and abuse, were also established by the department.
Also, in 2021, the LAPD ceased sending officers to minor traffic accidents.
A deputy chief at the time estimated that this decision would result in the loss of 40,000 calls per year.