Between defund and defend, L.A. tries new tactics, bigger budget for cops
PBS / August 28, 2021
For years, LAPD has dispatched pairs of clinicians and armed officers to respond to some mental health calls, a program in its pilot stage in Minneapolis.
Still, leaders at LAPD and Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services have spoken for years about doing more — establishing a system to divert suicide 911 calls to counselors who could calm people in distress over the phone and connect them to services.
After hearing the mayor talk about policing alternatives last summer, Didi Hirsch Projects and Grants Manager Sandri Kramer called Police Capt. Brian Bixler, a project partner, and said, “This is our moment. We can make this happen.”
They secured money from the mayor’s innovation fund and rolled out the program in February for eight hours a day. By July, it ramped up to 24 hours and had diverted 771 calls by month’s end, though police still respond when people pose an immediate threat to themselves or others.
“It’s not necessarily about defunding the police,” Kramer said. “It’s just making sure that the moneys go to serve our public in the best way.”
Last fall, local leaders announced a new effort to dispatch mental health workers in therapeutic transport vans to some nonviolent 911 calls — a way to connect people in crisis with a broader array of services without agitating them by showing up in a police car or ambulance. The county introduced the program on a smaller scale this summer, though a full launch has been delayed until the city approves a memorandum of understanding.
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