Former President Barack Obama commended cities that are “reimagining policing” by sending “civilian responders instead of police” for mental health crises, in a tweet posted Monday.
Obama shared a USA Today article on the success of civilian response programs that have replaced the police in 9-1-1 calls involving mental illness, homelessness and addiction in the cities of Eugene, Oregon, Olympia, Washington, and Denver, Colorado.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 5, 2021
The article cites a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine estimating that up to “50% of fatal encounters with law enforcement involve individuals with mental illness.” It also highlights a Washington Post database, according to which 1 in 4 fatally shot by police since 2015 suffered from mental illness. (RELATED: Lawmakers Pass Sweeping ‘George Floyd’ Police Reform Bill)
Advocates of the civilian response programs argue that unarmed mental health professionals are better equipped to de-escalate certain nonviolent situations than police officers, according to the USA Today report.
“It’s extremely successful, and it’s even better than what we had anticipated,” Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen told USA Today. “Right off the bat, we had officers on every shift saying, ‘When can we get more of this and expand this?'”
Obama issued the “Reimagining Policing Pledge” in June 2020 amid nation-wide protests fueled by allegations of unchecked police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S. More than 300 local jurisdictions have taken the pledge since June, committing themselves to “review and reform use-of-force policies and combat systemic racism within law enforcement,” according to the website of the Obama Foundation.