The Ann Arbor police chief says unarmed responses to some emergency calls make “sense”.
ANN ARBOR, MI – Police are responding to some emergency calls that other unarmed professionals may be better suited to, said Michael Cox, Ann Arbor police chief.
That includes some calls to people dealing with mental health issues, he said.
“There are a lot of calls that we go to, when we get there it really isn’t a call for us,” he said. “But the fact is that there is no other service provider who takes care of these things.”
Cox agrees with the city’s elected leaders pushing for an unarmed crisis response program to get non-police responses to certain emergency calls.
Most law enforcement agencies would likely agree to respond to calls that they don’t have to deal with, Cox said.
“And if we can find a mechanism to do it so we don’t have to leave and then the right people are around, I think that makes sense,” he said. “That’s pretty smart.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor and other city council members jointly supported a resolution on the April 5 city council agenda to direct city administrator Tom Crawford to work with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and others to develop a program by the end of the year.
If the resolution is approved, Crawford should consider getting unarmed responses to calls on Metro 911, potentially partnering with nonprofit service providers, and finding out what responses could now be handled by armed police officers from experts in areas such as mental health, public Health and human services.
Ann Arbor may initiate unarmed responses to certain emergency calls through the end of 2021
The police are generally busy, and when there are 911 calls, they are not particularly suited to it. “We are all for an unarmed response to the appropriate people, especially on mental health issues,” Cox said.
But when there are 911 calls and only the police can answer, they will always show up and try to provide the best possible service, Cox said.
“It’s also important for people to understand. We don’t go to these calls because we just want to be active dealing with people who are mentally ill (problems), but we go because no one else is answering this call, ”he said.
“If society creates other … ways to help people, we are all for it,” said Cox.
There are societal mental health issues that need to be addressed, Cox said. But he does not believe that such programs should be funded from the police budget.
“I don’t know how the police can solve the problem. It just seems to me that these are just a few services to the general public, ”said Cox.
While some members of the public have urged city leaders to “defuse the police” and shift funds to other programs, Ann Arbor has not yet made an official proposal to switch police resources to an unarmed response program.
Instead, city leaders have considered new marijuana tax revenues and money in the Housing Commission budget as potential sources of funding.
“If it’s based on science, if it’s based on data, if it’s based on some kind of research that is really showing positive effects, then all of me is there to sit down and listen and understand and maybe even agree to” said Cox shifting police resources.
But if it’s just based on a slogan like “Defund the Police” because people are upset with the police over things that have happened across the country, it’s completely different, Cox said.
“But there seems to be a mental health crisis in this country, especially with COVID,” he said. “I mean, look at the events that take place in general. Check out the shootouts that have just happened recently. I’m not a doctor, but I’d say a lot of these people have mental illnesses. “
People are not designed to be isolated for long periods of time and some are suffering from the pandemic, Cox said.
“And that doesn’t mean the police aren’t needed,” he said. “They are two separate things.”
People with mental health problems need help, and in the worst case scenario, the police are still needed, Cox said.
Cox has raised concerns about a surge in heavy attacks at Ann Arbor amid the pandemic.
The number of serious assaults rose from 153 in 2019 to 196 in 2020, a jump of 28%, city records show.
“With crime generally increasing, I just don’t know how helpful it is to leave our ranks,” said Cox. “I am all for offering services to people with mental health (issues), not for exhausting our services for the public to do so.”
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