A bill to establish a pilot program to have community-based organizations serve as first responders instead of the police awaits only Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature.
The legislation, AB 2054 – the CRISES Act – authored by Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), passed both houses of the California legislature with nearly unanimous and bipartisan support. The bill is co-sponsored by 13 organizations and includes family members of individuals killed by police, advocates, and experts in non-police responses to crises.
“Law enforcement has become the go-to solution for societal problems that shouldn’t require police involvement,” said Kamlager. “The CRISES Act limits unnecessary interaction with police by providing alternatives to police involvement. The pilot program will provide humane and germane emergency response to address the root of problems.”
“Interactions with police can be scary for communities historically traumatized by law enforcement,” Kamlager continued. “These interactions also can be deadly, as we see all too frequently.”
“Police violence is a leading cause of death for young Black men,” Kamlager said. “Police kill people with untreated mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, 16 times more often than people without mental health issues.”
Asantewaa Boykin is an emergency room registered nurse and co-founder of Mental Health First in Sacramento, which was created to provide non-punitive, patient-centered crisis intervention to individuals in a mental health crisis.
“The increased stress of living through a Pandemic has meant a surge is mental health calls as well,” noted Boykin.
“We all know someone, love someone, or, are someone living with mental illness. In a time of crisis, I imagine we all would prefer our loved one, or ourselves, be lifted up with a kind hand and not hand-cuffs.” She shared.
Despite the positive impact and cost savings of community-oriented responses to emergencies, California has done little to offer and support these efforts. Instead, law enforcement officers respond to emergencies better suited to peer support experts, or crisis counselors trained to deescalate and resolve crises. Community-based services need to be part of the web of emergency response networks.
In cities across the state, community organizations successfully respond to situations involving unhoused people, people exposed to violence, people experiencing substance abuse and other issues.
“These are not new efforts. Many communities of color, especially Indigenous and Black communities, have organically developed and used similar systems of care for years,” said Ellie Virrueta, with Youth Justice Coalition and STOP Coalition, co-sponsors of the bill. Virrueta’s 14-year-old cousin was killed by police.
“Not only have we already been doing this work without funding, but we also have the trust and relationships needed to care and uplift our community. AB2054 will fund solutions to save lives by investing in community-based alternatives.”
Law enforcement officials have expressed frustration and a desire to focus on public safety emergencies and a preference for trained health professionals to respond to the type of crises targeted by this legislation.
“Other state and federal legislators are looking at the legislation as a model,” said Kamlager. “We have an opportunity to move away from the tired status quo that results in the shooting of unarmed Black men in front of their children and drove hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to protest during a pandemic. This bill is an opportunity to advance racial equity in California. I hope our Governor takes it.”
A wide range of organizations, cities and government officials support the CRISES Act. The bill has received no opposition.