Columbus Group Suggests No Police in Response to Mental Health Crisis

Members of the Columbus Safety Group want the City of Columbus to implement an alternative emergency response program, one that does not involve police in crisis response.

The city currently has programs aimed at providing alternative responses and decreasing Columbus police responses, but Alaviah Sharif, organizer of Columbus Safety Collective, said his group believes current measures do not address real crisis situations.

“Alternatives currently in Columbus do not address this need for unconditional teams to respond at the scene when someone needs help,” Sheriff said during a public meeting of the collegiate Wednesday at Trinity Episcopal Church in East Broad. Third Streets downtown.

“We want the city to invest in a public safety system that our neighbors can rely on and trust, make decisions based on evidence, and are accountable to the community,” Sharif said. The group, according to its Facebook page, “is in place to create a health-focused anti-racism emergency response program” for Columbus in which police are not involved.

Last year, the city set up a pilot project called Correct response unit – a team consisting of a dispatcher, a Columbus public health social worker and a city fire paramedic – has been included in the 911 dispatch center to review calls for a potential replacement, Non-police responses. The unit’s creation arose from the city’s initiative “Reimagining Public Safety” that jumped to the fore in the wake of the 2020 racial injustice protests in Columbus.

The Columbus Police Mobile Crisis Response (MCR) unit paired a police officer trained in crisis intervention with mental health and substance abuse clinicians. The program had doctors and officers on the street together for 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and they responded to about 6,000 calls. But the agreement with the company that supplies the doctors expired in 2021.

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Stephen David, Columbus Safety Collective’s organizer and social worker, said the group is asking the city to allocate money in the 2023 budget to launch a new pilot program that does not include police in response to the mental health crisis next year.

David outlined policy points the group hopes will lead to the creation of a new program, including sending teams into crisis situations without police officers and stimulating the hiring of crisis responders from “neighborhoods in dire need.” David also said the group hopes to see community involvement in the proposed program, hiring and training community members for mental health crisis intervention and medical skills.

He said the group is also proposing to set up a community oversight board and pay for external evaluation to assess the impact of the proposed program through the pilot and beyond.

Chana Wiley, a community organizer with both the Ohio United Family for Political Action and Change and the Columbus Safety Group, spoke during the meeting about how her experience shaped her view of the need for alternative, unconditional responses. Jaron Thomas, Willie’s brother, died in police custody in 2017 after calling 911 during a mental health crisis and being restrained by police responding.

“A mental health or behavioral crisis does not mean danger,” Willey said. When the police respond to these situations, they reduce the chances of people getting the help they really need. These models work in other cities and we shouldn’t have to wait to see one in Columbus.”

Coroner’s office in Franklin County ruled that Thomas’ death was accidental and that the cause of his death was a lack of oxygen to his brain due to cardiac arrest, I mentioned Dispatch. The Franklin County District Attorney’s office refused to present the case to a grand jury because the coroner ruled an accidental death.

In 2021, a federal judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the Thomas family against the officers involved.

A spokesman for Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginter was not immediately available Thursday for her response to the proposal.

Cole Burns is a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch covering public safety and breaking news. You can access it at CBehrens@dispatch.com Or find him on Twitter at Tweet embed