Cities across the US are finally seeing some tangible police reform and defunding changes. San Francisco is joining the movement with their recent announcement that police officers will be replaced with trained, unarmed professionals to respond to calls for help on non-criminal matters involving mental health, the homeless, school discipline, and neighbor disputes.
As part of a larger police reform initiative created by Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Police Department has been directed to also establish an “explicit” policy to ban the use of military-grade weapons against unarmed civilians. This includes chemical weapons, such as tear gas, bayonets, and tanks which the department will have to get rid of by 2021.
Additionally, the city’s Department of Human Resources will audit hiring and promotional exams by the Police Department and San Francisco Sheriff‘s Department and incorporate testing for bias and potential for abuse of force. The police will also be cutting back on the release of booking photos which violate personal privacy and work to reinforce stereotypes.
The transition to trained professional response to non-criminal calls is a significant positive change for reducing potentially negative interactions between untrained police officers and those experiencing a mental health crisis or non-violent dispute. For the city of San Francisco, a large component of this includes calls made about members of the city’s homeless population. The SFPD now receives about 40,000 calls a year about homeless people living on the streets. Social workers who are familiar with the experiences of unsheltered individuals will be far more beneficial in these situations.
Last week, we discussed a program in Dallas which screens 911 calls for mental health emergencies and provides medical and mental health responders before the police. Dispatching trained professionals to diffuse situations of conflict and address mental health needs is a great solution for proactively addressing the root of the problem as opposed to simply arresting those in crisis. We at The Optimist Daily are excited to see this policy, and San Francisco’s larger reforms, improve community wellness in the city.