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Survey Tracks Spread of Policing Alternatives Nationwide

At least 43 of the 50 U.S. cities with the largest law enforcement agencies have put unarmed, non-law enforcement responders on their streets to deal with social and health problems as a complement to armed police responses, while at least 19 cities in the top 50 have gone further with "alternative first responders" in place of police, a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice found. In a survey of the top 50 cities, researchers found that since the start of 2020, a year in which interest in policing alternatives spiked, 15 cities joined the list of at least 28 that already used "co-responder" programs to address many calls to 911 related to behavioral health or homelessness. The study is current as of July 2022. At least eight of the new programs were launched as pilots on a small scale, but some successful pilots have been scaled up in such places as Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville and Nashville, the study found.

The 19 cities in the top 50 that started alternative first responder programs also focus on behavioral health, homelessness, and other quality-of-life calls. Some can be summoned with calls to nonemergency 311 lines instead of just via 911. Most of these programs are limited to specific types of calls in particular neighborhoods and hours, although some have opted for more expansive coverage in attempts to limit the use of jail to hold people with mental health-related crises. Another category of law enforcement alternatives examined in the report concerns traffic enforcement. Since 2020, 10 jurisdictions have taken steps to shift traffic enforcement from police or have legislated reduced police discretion to make stops. Another handful of jurisdictions have prosecutors whose offices no longer bring some or all charges stemming from minor traffic stops. "Efforts to scale back law enforcement’s role in traffic enforcement do not enjoy broad support among police, and they have not yet been widely implemented or studied. But this area of reform is ripe for experimentation," the report states. The Council of State Governments Justice Center on Friday announced the release of an assessment tool to help communities plan and launch alternative responder programs.


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