Los Angeles County Considers an Unarmed 911 Alternative

By Dan Fritz | KPFK

For years, justice reform advocates have been pressing Los Angeles County to invest in alternatives to policing and incarceration. Those efforts were spearheaded by a coalition of groups that regularly included Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, Dignity and Power Now and the Youth Justice Coalition, among others.

On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to consider diverting some money from the Sheriff's Department towards services instead, including using jail money for treatment programs. The move is a step in the right direction, according to the advocates, but nowhere near enough of a shift.

However, the board also passed a motion to explore setting up a new alternative to 911, which residents can call to receive unarmed help.

"40% of the people killed by law enforcement in L.A. County had a mental condition," Kim McGill with the Youth Justice Coalition told the Supervisors Tuesday. "They needed a counselor, but they got a cop."

Supervisor Janice Hahn proposed the new emergency number, to be set up by the county's Department of Mental Health. Health workers and counselors would be available to help with non-violent disputes, serious suicide threats, and other non-violent emergencies.

Hahn noted that police are "not trained mental health professionals." She said that dispatching police just isn't "always the most appropriate response."

The Supervisors sought to get support for the alternative emergency line from Sheriff Alex Villanueva, despite the rocky relationship between the Sheriff and the board since he took office two years ago.

Instead of support, he warned the board steer clear of the 911 system. He said he could support some other non-emergency system, but he doubted whether county workers could be relied upon to show up in the middle of the night to help residents.

He also criticized the board for moving ahead with a plan to divert jail money and blamed reform advocates for having had too much say in the plan.

"Too many people have called 911 because a family member was threatened suicide," McGill said. "But when law enforcement arrives, they escalate tensions, and kill the person."

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