Three councilors call for unarmed community response team

Boston City Councilors Michelle Wu, Lydia Edwards, and Julia Mejia File Ordinance to Establish An Unarmed Community Safety Crisis Response System

Many neighborhood residents in the South End and Back Bay have long told police and public officials from City government that they don’t necessarily want to always call 9-1-1.

This was in no way more apparent than when it came to dealing with the opiate crisis, homelessness or small-time issues – with many residents not wanting a full, armed police response to mental health or drug issues. Likewise, there are many times it has been reported that police are tied up with more pressing criminal responses to be able to address the smaller issues – such as often happen in the South End.

After years of the South End Forum and the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) asking for a separate team to respond to these calls via 3-1-1, some city councilor have seemingly heard amidst the protests regarding overzealous policing.

On Friday, June 19, Boston City Councilors Michelle Wu, Lydia Edwards, and Julia Mejia filed an ordinance that would establish an unarmed Community Safety crisis response system to divert nonviolent 911 calls for service away from the Boston Police Department to an alternative response from non-law enforcement agencies.

As the deaths of George Floyd and many others have highlighted nationwide racial disparities related to public safety practices, local governments can respond by implementing a more holistic public safety infrastructure that is integrated with public health.

The Boston Police Department routinely responds to nonviolent calls for service involving mental health, homelessness, substance use, and traffic crashes, which are matters beyond the scope of law enforcement’s function and would be better served by a public health response.

The ordinance that Councilors Wu, Edwards and Mejia filed calls for the City of Boston to develop a systemic Community Safety crisis-response plan for nonviolent emergency calls within 90 days to directly connect people in need to City- or community-based service providers and replace law enforcement presence in nonviolent, non-criminal situations with a range of unarmed service providers, including health care professionals, mental health workers, outreach workers specializing in outreach to residents experiencing homelessness, and other unarmed professionals with specialized training.

The ordinance will appear on the agenda for discussion at the Boston City Council meeting on Wednesday, June 24, at noon. The matter at that time will be assigned to committee and scheduled for a hearing.

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