LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to move forward with plans to form an unarmed crisis response team for nonviolent 911 calls.

The council approved a series of measures recommended by the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Police Reform that include creating a new classification for those city employees who would be dispatched to those nonviolent calls, and partnering with a nonprofit on a pilot program for the plan.

The team would replace L.A. Police Department officers in circumstances that would not require the use of either non-lethal or lethal weapons by officers. Those calls could include mental health, substance abuse, suicide threats, behavioral distress, conflict resolution and welfare checks.

The question now is how the program would work. The motion calls for the unarmed teams to include mental health workers, homeless outreach workers, medical professionals and others.

The council first voted in June in favor of the motion to divert nonviolent calls away from the LAPD.

In July, the council slashed the LAPD’s budget by $150 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The cuts were in response to the police brutality protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an incident which forced cities across the country to reevaluate their policing procedures.

The past few months has seen significant unrest locally and nationwide following the deaths of several other civilians at the hands of police officers, including Dijon Kizzee and Andres Guardado in L.A. County.

City council members said they passed the measure to assure citizens that their pleas for change and accountability of law enforcement officers who use excessive force are being taken seriously.

“Black people, in particular, we hear you,” said Councilman Herb Wesson Wednesday. “We’re gonna respond to you, and we’re going to begin to make substantive reforms that you can see.”

The LAPD said it “fully supports” the council’s unanimous vote.

“For far too long the men and women of the department have been asked to respond to calls from our community that would be more effectively addressed by others,” the LAPD said in a statement to CBSLA. “Consistent with our core value of ‘Quality Through Continuous Improvement,’ we look forward to the establishment of trained professionals, whether new city employees or community organizations, available both day and night to handle these non-emergency calls that our community expects.”

Last month, L.A.’s Chief Legislative Analyst released a report providing an overview of similar unarmed response teams that are used in other cities. L.A.’s program would be modeled after Eugene, Oregon’s existing crisis intervention team called CAHOOTS. The teams would respond to nonviolent calls only that fall into their areas of expertise, ranging from mental health concerns to conflict resolution.

A study by the Treatment Advocacy Center shows about 25% of all fatal encounters with law enforcement involve a person with severe mental illnesses. 

“We have failed people who really need our assistance. The majority of them happen to be black and brown who are struggling with mental health issues and homelessness. And to give the police department more to handle, I don’t think it’s fair,” Council President Nury Martinez said.

With these intervention teams in action, the city council said this program will free up police officers to respond to community safety crises they’ve been trained to handle.

“We remain committed to public safety and in response to the recent budget cuts and staffing reduction have begun the process to shift our operations away from less-essential activities,” the LAPD said in response to the council’s vote. “The alternative services envisioned by our elected leaders will ensure the public continues to have appropriate professionals available to maintain safe and healthy communities for generations to come.”

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