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LA’s City Budget Includes $20 Million For Unarmed Crisis Response. Is That Enough?

Community health worker Martin Escobedo prepares for an emergency call as part of the Therapeutic Transportation Van program for mental health emergencies across Los Angeles, CA. Escobedo sits in a white van, the side door is open and he appears to be working with a mobile computer device.
Community health worker Martin Escobedo prepares for an emergency call as part of the Therapeutic Transportation Van program for mental health emergencies in L.A.
(Raquel Natalicchio for LAist )
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The budget approved by the Los Angeles City Council Thursday includes about $20 million for unarmed crisis response programs.

Mayor Karen Bass, the council, and police reform activists have called for removing police from certain mental health crisis calls, citing outcomes that are too often deadly.

The budget earmarks more than $15 million for unarmed crisis response programs, plus roughly $5 million for the forthcoming pilot project which would send out unarmed responders trained in de-escalation tactics rather than officers with guns.

More than two years ago, the city council voted to develop an unarmed model of crisis response that would divert non-violent mental health calls away from police. While the city has tentatively selected three contractors to head up the pilot program, it has yet to begin.

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In a tweet, Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez called the investment in unarmed public safety programs “a transformational shift in how we are approaching public safety in LA.”

While Soto-Martínez called the funding for unarmed response “an amazing start,” he said it was still not enough for what the community needs.

“I don’t think it’s enough now, but I’m very pleased that we’re certainly heading in the right direction, and that has to do with a lot of the work the community has done on the grassroots level,” Soto-Martínez told LAist Friday.

According to a report from the Office of the City Administrative Officer (CAO), 30% of the people LAPD officer’s shot at between 2018-22 were experiencing a mental health crisis. Of the 31 people officers shot at last year, nine had a perceived or confirmed mental illness, the LAPD said.

While the budget cleared the council on Thursday, there was one dissenting vote.

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez said the budget invests too heavily in the LAPD. “And with only $15 million dollars dedicated for Unarmed Crisis Response — one tenth of 1% of the overall budget — it fails to meet our commitment to Angelenos to provide life-affirming care when our constituents face a crisis,” Hernandez said in an emailed statement.

Next Tuesday, the council’s Public Safety Committee is slated to take up a report from the CAO’s office on the progress of the unarmed crisis response pilot. The committee will take public comment from in-person attendees only.

The council is scheduled to have a final vote on the budget next week, after which Mayor Bass will have five days to sign off.

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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