Public Safety: Councilors Wu, Edwards, and Mejia File Ordinance to Establish an Unarmed Community Safety Crisis Response System

Special to the Patriot-Bridge

Last week, Councilor Lydia Edwards joined at-Large Councilors Michelle Wu and Julie Mejia to proposed an ordinance that would establish and unarmed Community Safety Crisis Response Team – a trained group of professionals that would help divert non-violent 9-1-1 calls for service away from the Boston Police.

As the deaths of George Floyd and many others have highlighted nationwide racial disparities related to public safety practices, local governments can respond by implementing a more holistic public safety infrastructure that is integrated with public health, they said.

The Boston Police Department routinely responds to nonviolent calls for service involving mental health, homelessness, substance use, and traffic crashes, which are matters beyond the scope of law enforcement’s function and would be better served by a public health response. 

Edwards said she is getting pushback from some constituents this week about the proposal, but she said it is important to understand this isn’t replacing the Police, but helping them. Most responses for such issues are not the core mission of the Boston Police, she said, and there is no danger to the trained response team.

“If you want to call the police, that’s fine, but I don’t want to call the police about the drunk man sleeping beside my car,” she said. “I don’t think he’s dangerous or a threat to my life…I don’t want to have something escalate potentially. People are right to think that way. A trained professional can de-escalate. I’m not sending someone in naïve. We have street workers that go into very hot situations to prevent violent retribution on the streets and they go in unarmed. Let’s build on that and make them stronger and maybe even give them a dedicated phone number. This should be a collaborative moment.”

The ordinance that Councilors Wu, Edwards and Mejia filed calls for the City of Boston to develop a systemic Community Safety crisis-response plan for nonviolent emergency calls within 90 days to directly connect people in need to City- or community-based service providers and replace law enforcement presence in nonviolent, non-criminal situations with a range of unarmed service providers, including health care professionals, mental health workers, outreach workers specializing in outreach to residents experiencing homelessness, and other unarmed professionals with specialized training.

The ordinance appeared on the agenda for discussion at the Boston City Council meeting Wednesday, June 24, and was assigned to committee and scheduled for a hearing.

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