Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution Monday night directing the city administrator to establish an unarmed team to respond to public safety calls.
The idea behind the team is to reduce violent encounters with the police. The resolution posits that experts, specifically non-police people who have training in public health, mental health, and human services, are better equipped to respond to certain emergencies.
"Even during non-confrontational police-public interactions involving public health, mental health, and human service needs, the presence of a holstered firearm may give rise to feelings of unease and intimidation, particularly among persons from BIPOC communities," the resolution says.
There was some discussion by council as to where the money to fund the program would come from. The resolution directs the city administrator to identify funds in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget to maintain the program, and the city had identified a $234,000 surplus from the county's mental health millage that could go to initiate the program.
City Administrator Tom Crawford says the United States has a whole has systemically underinvested in mental health support for a long time.
"And what you have seen is that the problem is filtering down to the local level. And in this case, the police department has been forced to respond to something that they have not really been equipped to do." This means that funding the program will be a challenge, as this kind of program was something that the city had never envisioned on a local level, Crawford said.
Paul Fleming is an associate professor of public health at the University of Michigan. He says violent forms of policing disproportionately hurt marginalized communities and are a public health issue.
"We need to envision alternatives that do not include firearms, surveillance, and harassment, and take a more humane approach to public safety. We need to re-orient our public safety system away from punitive and violent policing and punishment system and towards more supportive public health focused-social services," Fleming says.
Lisa Jackson is the chair of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC). She's says she's been supportive of efforts to reimagine public safety, like the proposed unarmed team, and hopes city council will continue to investigate alternatives to traditional policing.
"The Independent Community Police Oversight Commission supports an array of programs related to restorative justice strategies for public safety and community support, including education and enrichment programs for at risk youth, promoting criminal diversion programs and expungement, as well as the reduction of contact with armed law enforcement for non-crimes," she says. "That last point, reducing the dispatch of armed law enforcement to non-crime situations is especially crucial."
Jackson says the ICPOC would also support investigating the idea of unarmed responders to things like traffic stops.
The resolution was passed by a unanimous vote from council members. Crawford and other members emphasized that this was only the beginning of a longer conversation about public safety and what an unarmed team of emergency responders would look like.