San Francisco mayor wants to revamp who responds to 911 calls. It will cost an estimated $4 million.


San Francisco, CA — On Tuesday, September 8, 2020, Mayor London Breed of San Francisco announced the launch of Alternatives to a policing Steering Committee.

The press release stated that it was guided by the Human Rights Commission. This will help San Francisco “research and develop alternative responses to calls regarding homelessness and behavioral help.” The cost is estimated at $4 million. 

Mayor Breed announced a vision to change policing in San Francisco back in June. Her idea was to address inequities the African-American community experienced through fundamental change and reinvestment. 

 She stated in her Medium Post:

“The criminal justice system can no longer be our answer to social problems.” 

The four priorities that she wanted to focus on are, ending the police involvement in non-violent activity, addressing their bias and strengthening accountability, demilitarizing the police, and promoting economic justice. This is to meet standards in the 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing by President Barack Obama.

The topic she shared on Medium was the Diversion of Non-Violent Calls away from law enforcement. This will address the specific need that motivated the caller who called for help, and free up to the Police officers to do what they were hired to do. They will still respond to burglaries, auto theft and break ins. However, they will not respond to things that don’t require an armed officer.

She states:

“Our police officers are not mental health professionals.” 

She notes that they are not medically-trained, not social workers, or child development specialists. Mayor Breed admits that it is not fair for the public to expect them to be such professionals in addition to their job.

Instead, throughout the year, she will issue Street Crisis Response Teams, and other teams to make it more effective. There will also be a Street Medicine team to help homeless outreach bring the homeless to shelters and housing.  

There will be three kinds of calls that will be triaged in this new system. Priority A, B and C.

In short, the A (Orange) calls will have a target response time of 7 minutes. These will include car accidents, suicide, burglary in progress, fight with weapons, gun shots, and things that are immediately life threatening.

The B (Blue) calls will have a target response of 20 minutes. These include damage to property, a verbal fight, an alarm going off. Things that are escalating into “the A calls.”

The C (Purple) calls are responded to in 60 minutes. This is for loitering, parking violations, or noise complaints. Things that aren’t violent.  

The idea is to channel the Priority C calls and behavioral health calls to someone who actually has training in the area. This does not require a police response, but allows the police to focus on the things that do require a police response like Priority A and B calls.

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In 2019 the Department of Energy Management got over 50,800 calls for things related to behavior health.

According to the Medium article, these included 21,860 calls for those who needed mental health assistance, and suicide attempts. Nearly 29,000 calls were for well being checks. 30-35 percent of 911 calls were for people without an address or homeless people.

In the first half of 2020, the department received nearly 26,000 calls about mental health assistance and well-being checks. The data they compiled shows that the calls occur mostly on Friday and Saturday nights, and increases in the afternoon and evening. Now they are crunching numbers.

They are investing in an EMS-6, a specialized unit of the San Francisco Fire Department which connect with the vulnerable, those with mental health needs, and social needs. The San Francisco Police Department includes a Crisis intervention Team Program (CIT) that works with the Department of Public Health’s Comprehensive Crisis Services team.

For the homeless, the city has a Homeless Outreach Team and DPH Street Medicine and Street Shelter Teams. They are also creating a Street Crisis response team which includes community paramedics from the Fire Department, and a behavioral health peer and clinician from the Department of Public health. This group will respond to suicide attempts, intoxication, residents who are disoriented, or suffer from psychosis.

The budget will include $4 million from the General Fund to make this possible. The Business Tax Reform will be on the Ballot in November. It will allow the city to direct $18.5 million to the pilot program over the course of two years.

The press release makes it a racial issue. She states in a report on the Blue Ribbon Panel of Transparency:

“African-Americans experience higher use of force rates by law enforcement than anyone in San Francisco. About 45% of all San Francisco Police Department use-of-force cases in 2019 involved Black people.” 

On the surface this looks like a semi-decent idea. Police shouldn’t be treated as mental health professionals, but when people have mental health episodes, it becomes violent quickly. It is almost imperative that the government understand that those who become violent are not going to listen to reason. Whatever is going on in the persons mind that is having the mental episode prevents it. When this occurs, police need to be there to help.

It is already receiving concerns: 

Mayor Breed is already getting a lot of attention from her Facebook post where she received over 200 comments and over 80 shares. Some responses:

“I can’t count the times I’ve seen San Francisco police officers doing exactly this in this photo. Checking a person’s vital signs on the street. Dispatching medical help to do these checks seems to be a better allocation of resources.”

Another added:

“Defunding the police will increase response times to emergency calls. Less officers on the streets means longer response times. Cutting academy classes plus attrition means longer response times.”

Another Facebook user asked this exact question:

“Our streets are a public health crisis. Clean them up and stop providing a sanctuary for mentally ill and drug addicted to live in. This is no city for children at this point.”

Additionally, this costs way too much money to make this happen. Where are they going to get this amount of money from? According to the San Francisco, median household income in 2017 was $110,816. That’s a whopping $40,000 more than the rest of California. The median gross rent in 2017 was $1,836.

In March 2019 the cost of living index in San Francisco was 173.6 which is much higher than the U.S. average of 100.

The percentage of residents living in poverty in 2017 were 10.0%, the majority of this is African-American residents at a little over 30 percent. The lowest part of this population was 7.3 percent which are white people, and 12.8 percent for Hispanic or Latino residents.

By reviewing, this it is definitely a question of a city that has too high of a standard of living, and it may do better to try to rethink this idea of policing. The population in San Francisco in 2017 was 884,363. This was nearly a 14 percent increase since 2000. If 10 percent of the population is homeless, that means that almost 88,000 people are homeless.

Perhaps Mayor Breed is missing the point. Instead of re-imagining a police force that increases taxes, focus on the 26,530 African-Americans who are homeless, and work on an economy that will help them get off the streets, get proper medical treatment, and show them that their lives matter. Or focus more on air quality, because slow suffocation to the homeless and elderly will give her no one to govern. 

Unless of course, homeless black lives don’t matter because they can’t pay the taxes that are steadily increasing. The real question here is the priority, and it’s clear that helping the homeless population is not a priority. Instead, it’s wasting money on an idea that will in fact be more problematic in the future, creating more overworked and underpaid people.

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