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Criminal Justice

LA Gets A Step Closer To Removing Cops From Some Mental Health Crisis Calls

A woman wearing a flowered mask and holding a mobile home holds up a sign that reads 'Care Not Cops' during a rally against the murder of George Floyd
A protester at a rally against the death of George Floyd.
(Chava Sanchez
LAist )
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The L.A. City Council voted Wednesday to move ahead with a plan to develop an unarmed response to non-violent mental health crisis calls.

With this latest step, the city will put out a request for proposals for one or more contractors to head up a citywide pilot that will handle some behavioral health crises without the help of police.

“Particularly in my district, people don’t want to call armed law enforcement, they just don’t, and they want someone else to be able to call,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said during a Public Safety Committee hearing earlier this month that took up the request for proposals.

The city wants its future nonprofit partner to base L.A.’s model on the CAHOOT’s program out of Eugene, Oregon. It sends out a medic and a crisis worker — not police. The request for proposals requires the contractor to “immediately respond” to calls involving mental health, substance abuse, suicide threats, conflict resolution and requests to check on an individual's welfare.

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The scope of work will also require the nonprofit partner to respond to unhoused Angelenos experiencing a crisis. The contractor must follow-through with needed services, which could mean transporting people to clinics or subsequent check-ins.

Once a contractor is selected, the city plans to have the pilot program launch late fall or winter.

A Survey Indicates Community Support

According to a report from the City Administrative Officer, a survey of more than 3,000 people who work or live in L.A. found 74% believe handling certain crises without police would benefit their community, although Harris-Dawson and other council members expressed concern that survey participation for some districts was comparatively low.

The CAO report includes a breakdown of 911 call volume from last year which shows that more than 15,000 calls for service involved “non-violent mental illness.”

People with untreated serious mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the police than other civilians, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. And 25% of people shot at by the LAPD from 2015-19 were perceived to have a mental illness and/or to be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Wednesday’s council action comes nearly a year after the initial motion was approved last October, following a summer of protests against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

If the pilot is successful, the goal is to eventually have the unarmed response service available to Angelenos 24/7.

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.

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