Making 911 Call Responses Safer

Calling 911 is marketed as a means to obtain help and safety when danger arises. But, when cops arrive in response to a 911 call, they can make a dangerous situation more dangerous and even make it deadly. This can especially be the case when the individual who makes the 911 call or is the subject of the call has a disability or a mental health issue.

Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead expressed the problem pithily in his October of 2017 editorial “Don’t Call the Cops If You’re Autistic, Deaf, Mentally Ill, Disabled or Old”: “Trained to shoot first and ask questions later, police pose a risk to anyone with special needs whose disabilities may not be immediately apparent or require more finesse than the typical freeze-or-I’ll-shoot tactics employed by America’s police forces.”

In addition to proposing reforms in how police are trained as a means to enhance the safety of 911 call responses, Whitehead suggests in his editorial that, for some emergency calls, police not be dispatched at all. Whitehead writes that some funds now directed to police departments could be used “to establish what one disability-rights activist describes as ‘a 911-type number dedicated to handling mental-health emergencies, with community crisis-response teams at the ready rather than police officers.’”

Along the lines of the suggestion made by Whitehead, Karen Morfitt reported Monday at CBS4 TV news in Denver, Colorado that the Denver police are planning to implement a pilot program, modeled after a program in operation in Eugene, Oregon, through which some 911 calls related to homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse would not result in the dispatching of any police. Instead, many such calls, when the situation does not involve a weapon or a threat to others, could be responded to by just a mental health worker and a medic.

Hopefully the program in the planning stages in Denver, and other similar programs, can help show the way to handling many emergency calls in a safer and more rights-respecting manner.

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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