The Coalition for Re-envisioning Our Safety, a multiracial group of faith leaders, social workers, health care workers, researchers and activists who support building a “care-based” community, are currently working to develop a plan for an unarmed public safety response program in Ann Arbor that was approved in an April City Council meeting.
In April, The Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution calling for an unarmed public safety response program to send public health experts to non-violent emergency calls in place of the police. This program aims to help individuals who do not feel comfortable calling the police for help or need professional help with issues such as mental health.
The program aims to expand the work of public health providers by having a comprehensive program that directs resources to those in need, according to the resolution. Ann Arbor City Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, said she supports this program because there needs to be a more proactive approach on providing care for marginalized communities.
“There has been talk about this for a few years in many communities, and the general approach rather than being punitive (is) to be more proactive so that we can reduce actions with police officers,” Griswold said.
Lee Roosevelt, clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, is a member of CROS. She said the coalition is about people coming together to help the community.
“In April, when the city put together this resolution, we all got together and decided to combine forces and really organize to make sure that this is a comprehensive program now that we have the city backing for it,” Roosevelt said.
CROS’ core values include ensuring non-police professionals are responding to non-violent emergencies under this program. They believe that the police can cause significant harm in the community and cannot be re-trained to take care of sensitive cases.
Part of the group’s goals includes ensuring these public health professionals are separated from the criminal legal system. They must also be trained on a variety of issues such as mental health, homelessness and emotional abuse.
Washtenaw County has seen multiple instances of police brutality in recent years, including the death of Aura Rosser, a Black woman killed by Ann Arbor police officers in 2014. Last year, amid heightened awareness around police brutality and racial injustice, millions of Americans protested for Black Lives Matter across the country, including in Ann Arbor.
Roosevelt said the police are not always trained for emergencies such as mental health in ways that other professionals are, and therefore should not be the ones responding to people who need help with those issues.
“The police are not social workers, and we are asking them to behave as social workers instead of doing what they are trained to do,” Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt said the program needs to be run by an independent nonprofit organization in order to ensure separation from other city departments.
“The big thing is that it has to have city (administration) support and be funded by the city, but it needs to not be embedded in the police department of the city, it needs to be really separate,” Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt also said this program could be beneficial to individuals who do not feel comfortable asking the police for help.
“We have a large portion of the community that has very challenging and problematic interactions with the police, and just won’t call 911,” Roosevelt said. “Part of the police department is not going to be utilized by the portions of our community that are asking for something that is separate and different.”
LSA senior Josephine Graham is leading a lawsuit that aims to change the way the University handles sexual assault cases. This class action lawsuit was filed in May 2021 on behalf of hundreds of survivors of former athletic doctor Robert Anderson.
Graham volunteers at Youth Arts Alliance and Telling It, a “trauma-informed” after-school program for children in the community,and works at Groundcover News, a local nonprofit street newspaper publishing stories related to homelessness and poverty. Graham said that based on her experience working with marginalized communities and learning about the criminal justice system, she believes there is a strong distrust between marginalized communities and the police.
“You just look at all the data and hear all the stories, and most importantly see first hand by working with communities most impacted,” Graham said. “You see that they all have a very strong distrust in the police because, as I believe, the system has been broken from the start.”
The resolution also requests a separate call number different from 911. Roosevelt said the reasoning for the separate number is to avoid confusion for the emergency dispatch if the caller is requesting an unnamed response.
CROS’ proposal was inspired by other unarmed public safety response programs that have been successful. Some of those examples are located in Eugene, Ore.; Denver, Colo.; Olympia, Wash.; San Francisco, Calif. and Austin, Texas, among other cities.
The City Council resolution aims to complete developing the plan this month. The program will have a budget of $3 million, given by the city administration to the unarmed response organization.
“When you compare it to the $30 million fund the police department gets, it’s actually a very low budget,” Roosevelt said.
Griswold said the pilot for testing the program would start within two years, which is the minimum funding period for the program.
“If we can get the pilot started mid-2022, I would be very satisfied,” Griswold said. “We do have models already in other communities, so we can modify them to meet Ann Arbor’s needs.”
Regarding how the program would be received by the community, Graham said building trust with the community would require hard work and time. In order for the program to be effective, the organization needs to have a community-based approach that listens to the people’s voices, Graham said.
“This is an ongoing process because trust doesn’t come in unity,” Graham said. “It requires us to be intentional in the ways we engage most directly with people impacted by these issues … They are great ideas, but they are not implemented in a way that is focused on the community.”
Daily Staff Reporter Caroline Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.