Cities has been shifting police responses away from nonviolent 911 calls. This fall, Oakland aims to join those cities. Oakland is launching a pilot project to funnel some nonviolent, noncriminal calls to new, mobile teams of civilians. One study estimates people with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with police than other civilians. Oakland City Vice Mayor and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan believes shifting police away from mental health and behavioral calls they are not trained to handle will lower this statistic.
The pilot program will operate under the fire department. But the teams will be made up of civilians, not sworn firefighters. And in hiring, the program will place a greater emphasis on lived experience over formal education. It’s a unique Oakland take among urban police reform efforts underway. Most cities’ pilot street teams are sending out a trained and licensed clinical social worker or psychologist. The plan is for a civilian emergency medical technician to be paired with someone, for example, with first-hand knowledge of the mental health, criminal justice, homeless or drug treatment systems. The civilian teams will deescalate problems, check vitals and potentially get the person in crisis off the streets, by connecting him or her to services anywhere in the city except a jail, a psychiatric ward or a hospital. More of this story here.