As California police unions oppose proposals that may reduce police control over 911 operations, more than two-thirds of California voters want behavioral health professionals to be part of the emergency response in non-life-threatening situations, KFF Health News reports. Law enforcement officials agree that 911 response merits a more nuanced approach. Police representatives said they favor alternatives that would supplement the current system rather than supplant it, and that would keep overall responsibility for 911 with police departments. “Our 911 dispatchers do an amazing job and are the perfect people to handle those in crisis,” said Tim Davis, president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association.
Yet, evidence shows police often fail to respond properly to people experiencing a mental health crisis. It can lead to avoidable deaths and criminalization of mental illness, especially among people of color. In California, proposed legislation would make alternative response a statewide requirement. State Sen. Aisha Wahab’s SB 402 would require 911 service centers to dispatch professionals other than armed police officers for calls related to mental health or homelessness. “It’s very simple,” Wahab said. “You save lives by having the appropriate response to a crisis.”