Alternatives to Police for Responding to Non-Violent 911 Calls

We’re developing alternatives to end the use of police in response to behavioral health and other non-violent calls for service

Overview of our Public Safety Reform Roadmap

In June, I announced my vision to fundamentally change the nature of policing in San Francisco. To address the structural inequities that too many in our City experience, in particular our African-American community, we need fundamental change and reinvestment. The criminal justice system can no longer be our answer to social problems. We have to reimagine a public safety system in which race does not influence or determine the outcome.

  • Addressing police bias and strengthening accountability
  • Demilitarizing the police
  • Promoting economic justice.

Diverting Non-Violent Calls

Working to divert non-violent calls for service away from a law enforcement-based response is a profound change in how we as a City respond when someone calls for assistance. It’s a key part of addressing our structural inequities, but it’s going to take work and it’s going to take time. It will require trying new things and adapting as we go. But we are determined to craft a better, more effective system of safety that works for our City.

  • Free up our police officers to focus on the situations that require a response from armed and trained officers, such as violent crimes, investigations, and the work that they were hired to do to keep the community safe.
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Mayor Breed out with the Street Medicine Team, which consists of homeless outreach professionals and medical staff who go out every day to bring support and try to transition people into shelter and housing
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911 Response times for Priority A (orange), B (Blue) and C (Purple) Calls since 2015

The Data Behind Non-Violent Calls

Our goal is to start by diverting many of these Priority C calls and behavioral health calls. We want to reassign them so the person calling for help or service gets assistance, but not a police response that isn’t necessary or effective to meet their needs. This allows our officers to focus on the Priority A and B calls that require a police response.

  • 28,980 calls for “check on well-being”
  • 30–35% of 911 medical call volume is for persons with an unknown address, or people who are homeless.
  • 14,731 well-being checks

Steps We Are Taking

We have invested in EMS-6, which is a specialized unit of the San Francisco Fire Department which dispatches trained community paramedics who respond to calls for high-users of the City’s emergency services. EMS-6 paramedics connect vulnerable people with care for acute medical, mental health, and social needs. The San Francisco Police Department has a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program, which trains officers how to respond to people experiencing a behavioral health emergency. The CIT works with the Department of Public Health’s Comprehensive Crisis Services team to answer calls for support.

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Member of the EMS-6 team checks on the health and well-being of a person on the sidewalk who may need medical attention.

Why This is Important

The data is stark. We have seen a disparate impact of policing on African American and Latino San Franciscans. African-Americans experience higher use of force rates by law enforcement than anyone in San Francisco. About 45% of all San Francisco Police Department use-of-force cases in 2019 involved Black people. A fairly recent report by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability and Fairness in Law Enforcement found that 15% of people pulled over in traffic stops just in one month alone were African Americans, much higher than their percentage of the city’s population, and comprised over 42% of all non-consensual searches following stops. The search data also revealed that African Americans who were searched were typically NOT found to be in possession of anything illegal. For example: contraband was recovered nearly 75% of the time during non-consensual searches of white residents, compared to 33% of the time in searches of Black individuals.

Long Road Ahead

This is not going to change overnight, but it will change. Again, this is better for our residents and better for the City workers who are responding to those in need. As we work to make the structural change through our $120 million reinvestment in the African-American community, we also need to make changes to our systems. I am committed, and I know we can do it.

45th Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco

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