LA announces plans to send ‘Therapeutic Unarmed Response’ to ‘non-violent’ mental health calls instead of LAPD


LOS ANGELES, CA – Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed a new city program to use “Therapeutic Unarmed Response” to some nonviolent mental health emergencies during his “State of the City” speech on Monday.

The Mayor said that his “Justice Budget” includes a one-of-kind partnership with Los Angeles County to begin sending “clinicians instead s instead of cops to respond to non-violent mental health emergencies.”

He said the new initiative would begin next month.

The initiative is being called TURN, or Therapeutic Unarmed Response for Neighborhoods.  The Mayor said the goal of TURN is to provide real results for Angelenos suffering from mental health challenges that too often go untreated.

The initiative, supported by cash from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, is not intended to replace police, but to better serve people in mental crisis. The Mayor said that he does not support replacing police, but changes need to be made:

“If you want to abolish the police, you’re talking to the wrong mayor. If you want to move backwards towards a failed us-and-them strategy that made police an occupying force in communities they were meant to serve, you’ve come to the wrong place.

“By giving up some power and admitting some errors, we can foster genuine safety from street to school to park to home. When situations don’t need guns, let’s not send guns.”

The Mayor did not address how mental health clinicians will be certain that a person experiencing crisis will remain nonviolent, or what will happen if a mental health crisis turns violent.

The “Justice Budget” outlined by the Mayor during the speech also funds a one-year pilot program providing round-the-clock, community-based response to non-violent crises among people experiencing homelessness.

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The Mayor said the pilot program will focus on the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the city “from Venice to Hollywood.”

A third initiative set out in the Mayor’s budget is to enhance the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development program (GRYD).  The “Justice Budget” will increase GRYD’s budget by a third, to $33 million.

The increased budget will add 80 new “peace ambassadors” to mediate gang issues and attempt to head off gang violence before it starts. The Mayor said the enhancement of GRYD answers a call by advocates:

“They mentor young people. They heal trauma. They stop violence before it starts. Year after year, I have deepened our city’s investments in violence intervention and prevention.

“Over the last year especially, I heard the voices of advocates saying that we need more peacemakers on our streets … that we need to empower them … and that we need to pay them more. So we’re going to ramp up their numbers, expand their footprint, increase their pay, and treat them like the professionals they are.”

Despite the Mayor handing left-wing advocates much of what they were calling for, protesters gathered because the budget included an allocation of $1.76 billion for the LAPD, a 3% increase. The Mayor cited the rise in homicides in the city as the reason for the increase.

The Mayor cut the department’s budget last year by $150 million to re-invest the funds into black communities. At the time, the Mayor said:

“I have instructed and committed … that our city … identify $250 million in cuts, so we could invest in jobs, in health, in education, and in healing.

“And that those dollars need to be focused on our black community here in Los Angeles, as well as communities of color, and women, and people who have been left behind, for too long.”

The cuts effected every department within the LAPD at a time when protests, riots, and homicides were ever present in California and across the nation.

Protesters gathered outside a local police union building near downtown LA on Wednesday to celebrate the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd said they were angered by the police budget increase, again called for the defunding of the LAPD.

Minerva García, a protester whose friend was shot and killed by police in 2018, called the budget increase “a slap in the face”:

“The Mayor says ‘Black Lives Matter’, but not in his own backyard … The city says it is ‘reimagining public safety’, but to them, that means giving more money to the police.”

Melina Abdullah, a BLM LA co-founder, said it was disappointing to hear the Mayor was increasing the LAPD budget:

“We have to be unabashed and unafraid to say, ‘Abolish the police.’”

According to Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, the proper way to bring mental health workers into policing is to have them respond with police, not alone and unarmed. In December, the chief wrote in a blog that in the three week prior to the article, two social workers were killed in the line of duty:

“On Nov. 30, a man in Seattle stabbed his caseworker, Kristin Benson, to death. On Dec. 2, a man in Melbourne, Florida, shot and killed Travis Knight, a social worker with whom the suspect had worked at a mental health treatment facility.

“This also happened to a Kansas City-area social worker in 2004. A 17-year-old in Johnson County attacked his mental health social worker, Teri Zenner, with a knife and chainsaw when she did a home visit in 2004. She died at the scene.”

The Kansas City Police Department created a joint program in 2017 that brought crisis workers and police together. Chief Smith said that social work is an important aspect of public safety, and he believes Kansas City was the first jurisdiction to employ full-time social workers to work with officers.

The Chief stressed that social workers cannot safely replace the police.

 “Social work absolutely has a place in law enforcement, but it cannot replace law enforcement, as many people have demanded this year. People who are in mental health or substance abuse crisis are not stable.

“They’re not always dangerous, but they can be. The criminal justice system is not the way to treat people with mental illness, but it does work to ensure people’s safety.”




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