Ann Arbor City Council will finalize their budget for the next fiscal year on May 17. In the meantime, council members have already begun discussions about what items will get funding this budget. One idea that's been discussed is an unarmed crisis response team that would respond to psychiatric emergencies instead of the police.
The idea was first brought up at a council work session on February 22. In a March 1 meeting, Lisa Jackson, chair of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, expressed her support for the idea, and encouraged the council to find money in the budget to make it happen.
"The city received a request from the sustainability office for the A2Zero Carbon Neutrality plan. To be very clear, environmental sustainability and a reimagining of public safety are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission sees this budget as a unique opportunity for the city to live up to its promise to reimagine public safety by also funding unarmed response programs in Ann Arbor."
The COVID-19 pandemic has made things financially tight for local business, and strained the city's revenue. As a result, the fire department has volunteered to cut $700,000 from their budget, and the police have offered to cut $1.3 million. Jackson pointed to that willingness as a good sign.
"No matter what you think of the phrase, the city is in a situation where the police have quite literally volunteered to defund themselves," she said. "This demonstrated willingness by the police to work together with the city for the sake of the whole community is a tremendous opportunity for the city to take the police department’s good faith and show them that investments in police alternatives will benefit them as well."
During the February 22 work session, Jennifer Hall, executive director of Ann Arbor's housing commission, proposed $234,000 of surplus funds from the county's mental health millage to fund a pilot program. Jackson says that's a start—but not enough.
"I’m appreciative of the city’s mindfulness in thinking about alternatives, however, that amount of money would not come anywhere close to providing unarmed crisis response services to our community for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
Jackson concluded by expressing her hopes that a reimagination of public safety and the proposed unarmed crisis response team would help not just Black and brown communities, but also veterans, undocumented immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, and transgender people.
Public comments during the meeting were largely supportive of the proposed unarmed crisis response team, mentioning the 2014 death of Aura Rosser at the hands of the Ann Arbor police as an example of how the city's policing needs to change.