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Criminal Justice

LA City Council Members Renew Calls For Unarmed Mental Health Crisis Response

LA City Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson wears a grey suit with beige tie and holds a microphone. LA City hall can be seen in the background. He is surrounded by activists. Some of them hold a Black Lives Matter sign.
LA City Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson joined BLM activists and other lawmakers to call for police reforms on Tuesday.
(Robert Garrova / LAist )
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LA City Council members are renewing calls for unarmed crisis response efforts after the first week of the year saw two fatal LAPD shootings and the death of 31-year-old Keenan Anderson, who was repeatedly tased by officers.

“We do not respond to mental health calls with mental health care, we respond with guns and badges and blaring lights and shouting and commands that people may or may not be in a position to adhere to,” Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson said at a press conference outside city hall Tuesday.

Assistance For Mental Health Crises Or Support

In police body-cam video released last week, Anderson appears distraught and says at one point that someone is trying to kill him before officers tase him multiple times within the space of about 30 seconds. Anderson died later that day.

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In other incidents, Takar Smith and Oscar Leon Sanchez appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis when they were fatally shot by LAPD officers.

Harris-Dawson, former Council Member Mike Bonin and others have pointed to efforts that are pending, including an unarmed model of crisis response that would divert non-violent mental health calls away from police.

The pilot has yet to launch but progress has been made.

‘Anxious to See This Happen’ 

According to the office of the City Administrative Officer, three contractors have been tentatively selected to head up the unarmed mental health crisis response effort. The one year pilot is budgeted for somewhere between $7-$10 million for this fiscal year. The CAO’s office is working on drafting individual contracts for the three partners and hopes to have a comprehensive report to the mayor and council within two months.

“I know there’s a great desire to bring these service providers on board and we understand that,” said Edward Roes, a chief administrative analyst with the City of L.A. “There is certainly the need for it and a lot of the council members and the mayor’s office are anxious to see this happen, so we’re cognizant of that,” Roes added.

Harris-Dawson and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield introduced a motion Tuesday that calls for appropriating $1 million to “immediate[ly] create the Office of Unarmed Response and Safety.”

Creating the independent office would give the city a new body to coordinate the unarmed teams, rather than putting them under the direction of LAPD or an existing agency.

For many activists and lawmakers, the right response can’t come soon enough. According to LAPD chief Michel Moore, of 31 officer shootings in 2022, 11 involved a person perceived to have a mental illness.

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“We cannot let this moment pass us,” Council Member Eunisses Hernandez said Tuesday. “We must invest significantly in the resources that are going to prevent people from getting killed when they call for help,” Hernandez said.

What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?
One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.