News and Commentary

Albuquerque Will Send Social Workers Rather Than Cops To Some 911 Calls
The mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller listens as his wife Kistin Keller cries while speaking to reporters outside the Tornillo Port of Entry where minors crossing the border without the proper papers have been housed after being separated from adults June 21, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, announced that some 911 calls would be addressed not by police, but rather unarmed social workers, as he said he would create a new department to address such situations.

Albuquerque Democrat Mayor Tim Keller stated, “We’ve placed more and more issues on the plates of officers who are not trained — despite their best efforts and despite some training — they’re not totally trained to be a social worker, or to be an addiction counselor, or to deal with things around child abuse when they’re just answering a call. We should have trained professionals do this, instead of folks with a gun and a badge.”

Keller said, “There is a huge portion of our community that doesn’t necessarily want two officers showing up when they call about a situation with respect to behavioral and mental health. So this is a new path forward for us that has been illuminated because of what we’ve learned during these times.” Keller obliquely referenced the recent protests across the nation, stating, “Look, there’s political will; there was not political will to make this huge of a step three weeks ago,” according to The Washington Post.

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier told his staff that police officers were “relieved,” telling the Post, “This is the solution” to overburdened police departments around the country.

The new public safety department, called Albuquerque Community Safety, “would refocus millions of dollars through the budget process into a public health model with a civilian-based response,” according to Fox News.

On Tuesday, six of the 15 members of the Los Angeles City Council signed a motion that would suggest using unarmed social workers instead of police to respond to nonviolent calls for service. “Councilman Herb Wesson, one of the authors, credited the efforts of Angelenos who took to the streets in recent weeks to call for the re-setting of priorities within the city budget, through a plan known as the ‘People’s Budget LA,’ a Black Lives Matter-led effort that calls for a drastic scaling back of the LAPD budget,” The Los Angeles Daily News reported.

Wesson added that the protesters “have asked us to re-imagine public safety in the 21st century, and that is what we are doing … These calls need to be directed to workers with specialized training who are better equipped to handle the situation.”

“Multiple cities across the country as well as the federal government are working to update policies and respond to the nationwide protests calling for change to law enforcement practices. Many have suggested the use of social workers and specialized medics as first responders to help prevent police calls from escalating and turning violent, and several other U.S. cities have implemented such changes,” The Hill reported.

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