Richmond to launch pilot crisis response program, taking police off certain calls
on September 24, 2023
Richmond City Council took a big step this month toward an alternative emergency response program that would give residents an option to calling the police.
Expected to start in August as an 18-month pilot, the Community Crisis Response Program will serve as a non-police emergency service, responding to mental health or low-level emergency 911 calls such as family disputes or wellness checks.
The decision comes after Oakland and Contra Costa County put similar programs in place. Since the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police in 2020, many cities have implemented alternative forms of policing that do not require a gun or badge.
In Richmond, the conversation started in 2014, when 24-year-old Richard “Pedie” Perez III, who was unarmed, was shot multiple times and killed by a Richmond police officer outside of Uncle Sam’s Liquors.
“If we had this program in place Pedie Perez would be alive today,” said council member Soheila Bana during the meeting.
According to the draft report presented to the council on Sept. 12 by Urban Strategies Council, which was contracted to develop a pilot, CCRP will allow the Richmond Police Department to focus on more serious calls, crimes, and investigations.
Residents would call 311 and a dispatcher would then determine the best emergency response team to deploy based on the caller’s concerns and needs. Each unarmed CCRP dispatch team will be made up of two mental health and harm reduction specialists and one medic, who are familiar with Richmond communities. They all will receive field and driving safety training along with mental health, first aid and de-escalation techniques.
Though independent of the Richmond Police Department, CCRP teams will work closely with the police and Fire Department to better understand emergency services procedures and policies.
Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officer Association and member of the community-led Reimagine Public Safety Task Force, explained to council members that a partnership between police and the CCRP will be needed.
“Limiting the role of police in certain social service providing is probably a good idea,” said Therriault. “But partnership with the police is something that’s always been essential for these types of models to be successful.”
In a 5-1 vote, the City Council decided to place the program under the leadership of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, Richmond’s gun violence prevention program. Many residents voiced support for adding the program to an existing department.
“This has to be city invested, community led, and union powered,” said Marisol Cantú, a leader for Reimagine Richmond, a grassroots movement to improve public safety that has advocated for the CCRP to be placed in the Office of Neighborhood Safety.
Jamin Pursell, a member of the Reimagine Public Safety Task Force, which also favored the program being part of an existing department, told the council that its placement in ONS would be crucial.
“As we saw with ONS, it has expanded over the years, it has made a huge impact. And something like this can continue to do that sort of hard work within the community, and try to provide the public safety that Richmond deserves,” he said.
The Office of Neighborhood Safety will be responsible for hiring 14 employees for the CCRP, along with collaborating with the county on how to share data and information, and figure out how the program will be funded after its initial pilot stage. The council also agreed to establish a community advisory board for the program.
In 2022, Richmond took $1 million from the American Rescue Plan, a federal COVID-19 relief reserve, to fund the CCRP pilot program.
The annual cost to operate at full-scale is projected at $1.87 million to $2.37 million.
Bana, who cast the only no vote, said she felt the implementation of the program seemed too soon, with funding and potential liabilities her main concerns.
“It’s less the money issue for the city, but it’s that we’re responsible for their lives,” Bana said. “We’re sending them to the streets without proper training, without proper backup, and without proper connections to the Police Department that could support them and save their lives.”
Council member Claudia Jimenez, who has advocated for the CCRP since it was proposed in 2022, was pleased with the outcome.
“I’m hoping that this is the beginning of really serving the community in ways that really help and support it,” she said. “I am not saying we don’t need the police, but what this is going to do is enhance the public safety of our community.”
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