Advocates Call for 911 Changes. Police Have Mixed Feelings.

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Health

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A mountain of evidence shows police often fail to respond properly to people experiencing a mental health crisis. It can lead to avoidable deaths and criminalization of mental illness, especially among people of color.

A poll commissioned by Public Health Advocates, a Davis-based health policy nonprofit, showed that more than two-thirds of California voters want behavioral health professionals to be part of the emergency response in non-life-threatening situations. Among seven types of situations potentially warranting emergency response, voters think law enforcement agencies are least equipped to respond to calls about mental health crises and people who are unhoused, according to the May 24 poll.

“Police response has become the oversized band-aid for something the band-aid was never designed to cover or heal,” said Ryan McClinton, who manages Public Health Advocates’ First Response Transformation Campaign.

His group and like-minded advocates in California are stepping up a campaign to overhaul the state’s 911 system so more mental health professionals and others with specialized training handle many emergencies, rather than the police.

Law enforcement officials agree that 911 response merits a more nuanced approach. But powerful police unions are against proposals that might reduce their control over 911 operations, and the budget and staff that go with them. Police representatives contacted said they favored alternatives that would supplement the current system rather than s …

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