RELEASE: Establishing New Branch of Civilian First Responders for 911 Calls Could Help Reduce Overreliance on the Police, New Report Says

Washington, D.C. — Today’s law enforcement officers are often dispatched for 911 calls that do not require an armed police response, to the detriment of civilians and officers alike. A report released today by the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) and the Center for American Progress proposes a new branch of civilian first responders, called “Community Responders,” to address these types of calls.

Americans agree that it’s time to reevaluate the existing 911 model: Nearly 80 percent of voters support expanding 911 systems so that some calls are diverted to trained civilian responders instead of police officers. LEAP and CAP recommend that jurisdictions establish a Community Responder (CR) model to reduce the need for police response and provide a more effective, appropriate resolution to certain less urgent 911 calls. With a focus on long-term solutions, Community Responders can help address today’s quality-of-life concerns and low-level community conflicts before they become tomorrow’s emergencies.

CRs could be dispatched for two broad categories of 911 calls for service that do not always require police presence:

  1. Calls related to homelessness, behavioral health crises, and substance use: For these calls, Community Responders would include paramedics, clinicians, crisis intervention specialists, and peer navigators—outreach workers with personal experiences with the challenges facing clients.
  2. Calls related to quality-of-life concerns and nonviolent conflicts, such as noise complaints or disorderly conduct: For these calls, Community Responders should be “credible messengers”—individuals with strong ties to the community, oftentimes with a personal history of overcoming violence or justice system involvement.

Using 911 data from eight cities, the report estimates that up to 68 percent of police calls for service could be handled without dispatching law enforcement; between 21 and 38 percent could be addressed by Community Responders; and an additional 13 to 33 percent could be dealt with administratively without sending an armed officer to the scene.

“This report is a guide for every police department that feels the strain of being asked to do too much and for every community that has lost trust in their police,” says Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for LEAP. “I urge police leaders and elected officials to use the Community Responders report as a preliminary road map out of the public safety mess we have found ourselves in as a nation.”

“As we’ve seen time and time again, our country’s overreliance on the criminal justice system has had devastating effects, especially for communities of color,” says Betsy Pearl, associate director for Criminal Justice Reform at CAP and co-author of this report. “The police can’t be our go-to response to every problem. Cities should look to the Community Responder model as an opportunity to find long-term solutions to public safety concerns, without relying on the police.”

Read the report: “The Community Responder Model: How Cities Can Stop Sending Police to Every 911 Call” by Amos Irwin and Betsy Pearl

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