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Charlotte Will Divert Some 911 Calls to Non-Police Responders

The City Council approved a decision to redirect some 911 calls away from the police and to mental health clinicians or crisis teams. They will also utilize trained civilians for low-priority calls.

(TNS) — Some 911 calls in Charlotte, N.C., would be diverted away from the police department under a broad plan for public safety reform approved Monday by City Council.

The plan to shift certain responsibilities from police to mental health clinicians or non-law enforcement professionals comes as city leaders and many activists say they want to “re-imagine” the role of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. Still others have said they want the police department “defunded” in light of police violence cases nationally.

CMPD Police Chief Johnny Jennings said on Monday that transitioning more mental health calls to the crisis response team would address long-term problems in the community better than isolated officer interactions.

911 calls that are deemed lower risk for violence — such as for treating individuals who are homeless or experiencing mental health crises — can be redirected to clinicians or social workers working alongside people with medical training. A specialized crisis response team from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department would still respond to higher-risk 911 calls, such as if a person has a weapon.

During a Monday City Council meeting, members also agreed to a change that would allow trained civilians to respond to low priority 911 calls. These calls may include noise complaints or reports of property damage or illegal parking or reports of crimes where the caller says the suspect has already left the scene.

City Manager Marcus Jones proposed the new model within a broader slate of recommendations to redistribute some resources throughout Charlotte. The Council’s Budget and Effectiveness Committee is also considering equipping officers with iPads as they interact with residents in emotional distress. Proponents of that change say it would help police officers connect people with trained mental health clinicians and social services while also reducing the frequency of officers taking people to emergency rooms for mental or emotional health crisis.

Public safety discussions gained traction in July, following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and a protest incident in uptown Charlotte where officers deployed chemical agents after cornering largely peaceful demonstrators.

At an Oct. 26 meeting, the City Council will vote on a more comprehensive plan to “reimagine” CMPD, based on feedback from elected officials, a community input group and CMPD. Residents can comment on the plan that night, though Council member Larken Egleston said it would be helpful to launch a survey “so the community understands the changes we’re implementing.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles thanked the community input group for “bringing reality” to new CMPD policies and changes.

“They were very thoughtful. It was very informative, but not only that, influential,” Lyles said.

Monday’s meeting also laid out reform items that will require legislative change from the North Carolina General Assembly, including giving the Citizen Review Board subpoena power, which Jennings said he supports.

Council members also signaled support for new strategies to recruit officers who reflect diversity in Charlotte’s population and for evaluating and support existing youth programs and non-profits which target violence.

Proposed CMPD Reform

The changes to policing and emergency service calls discussed Monday include:

  • Diverting noise complaints and non-urgent 911 calls that report abandoned cars, illegal parking, larceny or property damage to non-law enforcement personnel. City officials did not specify which agency would begin to handle these calls instead of CMPD and officials have not said whether the work would continue to fall under the police department’s organization.
  • Recruiting officers that reflect the demographics of the city and offering incentives to officers who live in the areas they patrol.
  • Partnering with a university or independent organization to evaluate the effectiveness of CMPD’s youth programs.
  • Using a external consultant to analyze CMPD’s civilian interactions and calls.
  • Spending $1 million from the city’s budget to help Charlotte non-profits that address community violence.
Jennings said that while officers have have isolated interactions with people who need help, the crisis response team can have continual interactions with people who call 911 for mental health issues.

“It means there will be a group or entity that can handle it in long-term so we don’t have the same issue recurring,” Jennings said.

The plans to outsource calls to trained civilians could save Charlotte money. CMPD officers spent around 66,000 hours or $3.4 million a year on these low priority calls, according to city data released last week. It would take around 59 civilians to cover these calls, according to city documents. And the plan would slightly reduce the number of future CMPD hires.

And while an officer makes almost $107,000 on average with benefits, a county clinician earns $80,000 and a community service technician earns $57,000, city documents show.

Charlotte is also poised to launch two violence interrupter pilot programs this fall, Jones said.

The hospital-based interrupter model with Atrium Health, designed to help victims seeks professional counseling and support, is “moments away” from being finalized, Jones said.

A street outreach program — already implemented in cities across the country, including Durham, Greensboro, Milwaukee, Chicago and New York — is still being studied here. That’s in coordination with Cure Violence, which trains and pays trusted members of a community to help deescalate situations and prevent retaliation.

Individuals interested in providing a public comment on the recommendations at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting can sign up at the clerk’s office to speak.

©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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