The Los Angeles City Council heard an update Tuesday on the development of an unarmed crisis response model to divert nonviolent calls for services away from police officers, but the program is not expected to be ready until the 2022-23 or 2023-24 fiscal years.

Council members voted on June 30, 2020 to have the chief legislative analyst and the city administrative officer develop the model amid public calls for police reform and new models of community safety during anti-racism and police brutality demonstrations following the death of George Floyd.

Nearly eight months later, Chief Administrative Analyst Ed Roes updated council members on the status of the program’s development, which is being modeled after the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, program, which he said has “been successfully in operation in Eugene, Oregon for about 30 years now.”

Roes said Tuesday that the office also plans to look at Denver and Toronto, which have similar programs and populations closer to that of Los Angeles.

“Basically what the program would do would be to divert nonviolent 911 calls to health care professionals and interventionists away from an (LAPD response) … We understand it’s a high priority for the council and the community in general so we take this very seriously,” Roes said.

Roes did not have many details of the Los Angeles program’s development, which is in the draft stage.

“During this stage, this office is conducting information-gathering sessions with partners and stakeholders including council offices, the Los Angeles Police Department, the chief legislative analyst, the office of the city attorney, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and other agencies and departments as appropriate,” according to the report.

Councilman Kevin De Leon expressed concerned about how well the CAHOOTS program can be applied to Los Angeles, given Eugene’s lack of racial diversity compared to Los Angeles. Council President Nury Martinez also asked how the Los Angeles program would work with people of color and women.

Roes said the office would speak with CAHOOTS personnel and other agencies about how to accomplish that.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson addressed the importance of developing an unarmed response model in Los Angeles:

“I want to begin my comments by just invoking the trauma and the people who are not with us now because of the system we currently have. You lose count in this community of how many people are killed because police are called, mainly because there’s no one else to call when folks are suffering episodes related to their mental health,” he said.

Councilmen Paul Koretz expressed concern about developing the program too quickly and said he believed the city should create a smaller pilot program before taking the program citywide.

“I would again exercise a word of caution because I believe if we had one civilian social worker shot and killed on the job because they were there unarmed as we are looking to create this program, that might ruin the whole program, to put it mildly,” Koretz said. “And rather than starting full-bore and abandoning the program, I would suggest that we did this carefully.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino said officials creating the program should see first-hand how quickly non emergency calls can turn into violence.

“Take your time to spend with a police officer in a forced option simulator, so you can put yourself in the shoes of a police officer when you get to response to a non emergency call and how quickly things can turn,” he said. “Mr Koretz, you’re absolutely right, this should not be a flip of the switch, because our duty today is ensure that we have a safe city. When our residents call 911, they expect a response from either police or fire in a quick matter.”

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell noted the limitations and success of the Denver Support Team Assistance Response program:

“As far as cautionary, just be aware that in the city of Denver, according to USA Today, they received more than 2,500 emergency calls that fell into their STAR program … and the STAR team was only able to respond to 748 of those calls,” O’Farrell said.

“No calls required the assistance of the police in that study, and no one was arrested. So that does mean something, that does indicate something. Along with that, it’s important to note that Denver police responded to nearly 95,000 incidents over the same period, which suggests that an expanded STAR program in that city would reduce police calls by nearly 3%, according to this reporting,” he added.

The CAO expects to release a draft request for proposals to council members in May or June 2021 and have the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti review it on or before June 30.

The RFP will be released within two weeks of Garcetti and the City Council’s approval. A mandatory bidder’s conference for potential vendors and partners would be held two weeks after the RFP’s release, and proposals will be due 45 days after the release. The bidder submission window would likely close by Sept. 1.

According to this timeline, any budgetary impacts of the program would be for the 2022-23 or 2023-24 fiscal year, Roes said.

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