The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is considering taking some emergency calls away from armed law enforcement officers. The tricky questions are: exactly which calls are better solved with social workers and how big to begin this pilot program.
The proposal — discussed Wednesday by the board — was for a $1.6 million pilot program operating during weekdays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The plan faced strong opposition from area police chiefs who argued lives may be lost when police don’t respond.
Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence said he and other chiefs weren’t consulted.
“To be clear, the police chiefs are open to exploring alternative non-police responses to non-criminal, non-violent calls dealing with specific mental health issues and homelessness, but we have too many unanswered questions at this point to support this pilot program,” Lawrence said, calling in to the meeting.
But Flojaune Cofer, a public health advocate and chair of Sacramento’s Measure U Advisory Committee, was among those who called in to argue the benefits of not sending cops to some calls.
“When discussing 911 alternatives, instead of only framing this conversation by discussing the safety risks of law enforcement not showing up, let’s pause for a moment and consider this: how much safer might calls be if law enforcement wasn’t there to threaten people with arrest of violence," Cofer said.
Cofer and more than a dozen callers asked the county to staff the alternative response system seven days around the clock.
Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, who proposed the pilot program, said that during a mental health crisis law enforcement is often not the right answer and asked county staff to explore expanding the pilot. While advocates of the program seemingly avoided the contentious phrase “defund the police,” Kennedy said implementing the program likely means cutting the sheriff’s department budget.
“I don’t see how we do a program without some money coming out of the sheriff’s budget. How much? I don’t know,” Kennedy said.
In September, the board approved a $6.41 billion budget that included a 7% increase for the sheriff. The sheriff’s $592 million budget is about 19% of the county’s $3 billion general fund.
While the staff report proposed a $1 million pilot program with limited hours, Kennedy pressed the staff to present options with expanded offerings.
With all of the available three-digit numbers taken up, it’s unclear what number people will call to access the system. Debate on the issue is set to resume in late March.
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