Policy

Boston city councilors propose ordinance to direct nonviolent 911 calls to health, outreach workers instead of police

Noncriminal calls for situations involving mental health, substance use, and homelessness would be diverted to non-law enforcement agencies under the system, officials say.

David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

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Three Boston city councilors are proposing a system to direct nonviolent and noncriminal 911 calls to health care professionals and outreach workers instead of local police.

Councilors Michelle Wu, Lydia Edwards, and Julia Mejia filed the ordinance Friday to establish an unarmed “Community Safety crisis response system” aimed at replacing law enforcement response for certain emergency calls for service, such as situations involving mental health, substance use, and homelessnesses.

Boston police regularly respond to those calls, “which are matters beyond the scope of law enforcement’s function and would be better served by a public health response,” a joint press release published by Wu’s office says.

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“As the deaths of George Floyd and many others have highlighted nationwide racial disparities related to public safety practices, local governments can respond by implementing a more holistic public safety infrastructure that is integrated with public health,” the statement says.

The ordinance calls for the city to build a plan for the system within 90 days — one that would directly connect callers to city or community-based services, officials say. That includes connecting people in need to “health care professionals, mental health workers, outreach workers specializing in outreach to residents experiencing homelessness, and other unarmed professionals with specialized training,” the statement says.

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Recently, several councilors have said officials should seek to reallocate funding usually reserved for police into violence prevention and public health efforts, as the nation grapples with the impact of systemic racism and takes a sharp look at police practices.

Friday’s filing is slated to be formally introduced to the council Wednesday.

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