The Columbus Dispatch
$1.2M allocation for nonpolice response called a positive step
Columbus City Council’s allocation of $1.2 million of the city’s operating budget to pilot a nonpolice response program for nonviolent service calls — including mental health and substance use issues — is a step in the right direction, an advocacy group says.
Columbus Safety Collective, a community coalition dedicated to creating an anti-racist, health-centered, nonpolice emergency response system in Columbus, had asked the city for $10 million for the program.
“We think that’s a significant step right now,” Stephen David, a Columbus Safety Collective organizer, said of the $1.2 million allocation during the “People’s Safety Forum: Budget Debrief” Wednesday night.
About 50 people attended the public event at Venture Suites in the Near East Side, where the coalition gave a briefing on the city’s public safety budget and a five-member panel discussed policing alternatives.
Even though the allocation was not as much as was requested, David said, “at the same time, this is a commitment with city dollars to stand up a nonpolice emergency response program.”
The $1.2 million for the pilot program is in addition to $3.5 million Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther allocated to the city’s existing alternative crisis response programs, including the Right Response Unit — a team consisting of a dispatcher, a Columbus Public Health social worker and a city Division of Fire paramedic — that is embedded in the 911 dispatch center to review calls for potential alternate nonpolice responses.
During the meeting, a five-person panel talked about policing alternatives that ranged from concerns about who else to call but police to one person calling for abolishment of the Division of Police.
“For me, it really starts with the absolute abolishment of the police. … They don’t prevent trauma, they cause it,” said Hana Ortiz, of the Black Abolitionist Collective of Ohio.
Katelin Hansen, executive minister for United Methodist Church For All People, talked about how so many people who sleep at her Columbus South Side church have experienced previous trauma because of interactions with police.
“Last week we had a touchy situation (at the church),” she said. “Who are we going to call? We sure don’t want to
call the cops. I’ve got a sanctuary full of people who have experienced trauma, but we know we need help.”
People with disabilities suffer the most from “police brutality and police murder,” said Tabitha Woodruff, an attorney with Disability Rights Ohio.
“People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of a crime than to commit it, but we pack our jails and prisons with people with disabilities,” she said. “Any time you have an oppressive system, like our current police system, you are going to see people with disabilities suffering more than the rest of us.”
Woodruff also talked about how people view those suffering from mental illness as dangerous and reminded those in attendance there are numbers to call besides 911, including 988 — the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
“When someone has a heart attack, we are going to send a medic,” she said. “But if you are suffering from a panic attack, they are going to send a law enforcement officer because apparently there’s a law that needs to be enforced when you are in a mental health crisis.” firstname.lastname@example.org @megankhenry
“When someone has a heart attack, we are going to send a medic. But if you are suffering from a panic attack, they are going to send a law enforcement officer because apparently there’s a law that needs to be enforced when you are in a mental health crisis.” Tabitha Woodruff Attorney with Disability Rights Ohio