Human Rights

Less Police Involvement On Mental Health Calls Shows Fewer Arrests

Some major cities have already implemented programs that minimize or eliminate law enforcement's role in select situations, like mental health crises.

Less Police Involvement On Mental Health Calls Shows Fewer Arrests
City of Dallas

You’ve heard the rallying cry: Defund, dismantle and abolish the police. But what could this new reality look like? And where should the millions of dollars that are spent on police budgets go? 

MCBRIDE: "We need to reconstruct a totally new system of public safety that takes seriously the material and lived conditions of our people all across this country."

Mike McBride is a pastor and activist in California’s Bay Area. 

"We want a defunded policing apparatus and for a dollar-for-dollar defunding. We want it put into schools, housing, food programs, basic income for those who are the most impacted in our communities, violence interruption, strategies that are public health-centered."

Cities across the country are reacting to calls to defund. New York's City Council proposed a $1 billion cut to the NYPD's $6 billion budget — the nation's largest and most expensive police department. 

Defunding legislation is being considered or has passed in Los AngelesKansas CityBaltimore and Salt Lake City.

Perhaps most notably, in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, the City Council pledged to dismantle its police department and "replace it with a transformative new model of public safety." 

And while this is a brand new world for most, some major cities have already implemented programs that minimize or eliminate law enforcement's role in select situations. 

People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter, and at least one in four fatal law enforcement encounters involve an individual with serious mental illness.

YOUNG: "We ask the police to do a lot. And they will readily admit that they're not health care providers and that mental health in particular is a health care issue."

Kurtis Young runs the RIGHT Care program in Dallas. Since 2018, his group has partnered with the Dallas Police Department to deliver specialized mental health treatment to 911 emergencies.  

YOUNG: "A police officer, a paramedic and a social worker in one vehicle in response to mental health crises as one unit. So they're not waiting for the social worker to arrive, or they're not waiting for the paramedic to come."

Since January of 2018, the RIGHT Care Team has handled more than 6,000 calls, less than 4% of which resulted in an arrest. And in the coverage area where the RIGHT Care team is operating, overall arrests have gone down. 

Also, "quality of life" citations for things like disorderly conduct and public intoxication have also dropped in the area where the RIGHT Care Team works.  

And while some view the RIGHT Care Team as an alternative to policing, Young believes the program is actually dependent on the Dallas Police Department. 

YOUNG: "This program doesn't exist without the police department. We are a partnership with the police department. And that's that's such an integral piece of it: that we're not just social workers out there going house to house and taking 911 calls ourselves, you know. We have been folded into the system and very much welcomed by the police department."

A similar program in Eugene, Oregon, has been around for more than 30 years and responds to about 24,000 calls annually. The CAHOOTS co-response team says it has never had a "serious injury or death that their team was responsible for" in its 30 years of operation.   

MCBRIDE: "To me, the compromise has to be about the 'how' — it can't be about the 'what.' It has to be about the 'how.' We may compromise on how we do some of this stuff, but we can't compromise on the 'what.' And the 'what' is … no system should be able to dehumanize people for the sake of public safety."