A group of six Los Angeles City Council members including Council President Nury Martinez, 6th District, and Council President Pro Tempore Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, introduced a motion on Aug. 24 calling for the creation of a citywide office of unarmed response.
The motion builds on previous efforts to redirect calls to 911 involving non-violent people experiencing mental health crises to trained service providers instead of the police department. The calls often involve people experiencing homelessness who are in distress. The trained service providers can directly assist people and provide case management and services related to mental health, substance abuse, addiction and conflict resolution, O’Farrell said. The unarmed response approach has already been implemented through a pilot project launched in January in Hollywood and Venice.
“As the city struggles with the homelessness crisis, as well as an increase in crime, we should take the thoughtful, balanced approach we are using in my district and implement it for all of Los Angeles,” said O’Farrell, lead author of the motion. “In my district, we are holistically addressing public safety by compassionately responding to the needs of homeless Angelenos while also freeing up police officers to focus on their core mission: preventing and addressing crime.”
“Our goal has always been to establish a coordinated, long term solution for unarmed crisis response – one that uses our police for appropriate situations and not a catch-all for every issue,” Martinez said. “We’ve seen that new, innovative programs struggle from a lack of coordination within the city’s existing efforts and services. By creating this office, we can ensure that all crisis response efforts can collaboratively deliver Angelenos the services they need so that we can become a safer Los Angeles for all.”
O’Farrell and Martinez were joined in introducing the motion by Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield, 3rd District; Monica Rodriguez, 7th District; Curren Price, 9th District; and Kevin de León, 14th District.
“The expansion of these unarmed response models calls for increased oversight, accountability and coordination to ensure consistent deployment citywide while maximizing our first responders to remain available for the emergency response they were trained to do,” said Rodriguez, chair of the council’s Public Safety Commission. “From a public safety and budgetary perspective, we must do better to align our resources to address the multifaceted challenges affecting our neighborhoods while improving response and deployment.”
O’Farrell, Martinez, Blumenfield and Price, along with Councilmen Herb Wesson, 10th District, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, 8th District, introduced the original City Council motion in 2020 calling for the diversion of non-violent calls for service away from the Los Angeles Police Department. The motion was introduced in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and amidst a national movement to reconceptualize public safety responses.
The Aug. 24 motion will unite existing council initiatives regarding unarmed response into a citywide model. In the pilot program, the city has used CIRCLE (Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement) and the Therapeutic Van Program, and are evaluating their benefits to public safety. The CIRCLE pilot program began in January in Hollywood and Venice. In response to CIRCLE’s initial success, including more than 20,000 engagements in Hollywood from January to April, the City Council increased the annual budget for the program in June from $3 million to $8 million, and expanded operations to downtown, South Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley. The Therapeutic Van Program includes five vans provided by Los Angeles County that are staffed 24 hours and are deployed through the city.
The city of Los Angeles has also deployed non-police professionals as a social service response to a variety of issues over the last decade, frequently in partnership with law enforcement. Examples of programs include Gang Reduction and Youth Development; the Intervention, Domestic Abuse Response Team; Sexual Assault Response Team; System Wide Mental Assessment Response; and the Crisis Response Team. The motion seeks to centralize each of the different programs in one department.
For information, visit cd13.lacity.org.