Seattle City Council member to propose police alternative

July 6, 2020 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle City Council member is introducing legislation to redirect money from the police budget to creating a new mental health and substance addiction first-responder program.

The proposal from council member Andrew Lewis would send unarmed medics and crisis workers to reports of people in mental health crisis, The Seattle Times reported.

Amid continuing protests in Seattle and around the nation in which protesters are calling for defunding police, Lewis sees this new response replacing police in these situations. He wants the council to consider decreasing funding for the Seattle Police Department to pay for it this summer.

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Lewis in his announcement cited a program from Eugene, Oregon, called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets, or CAHOOTS, which is privately run by a local nonprofit and has taken nearly a fifth of 911 calls to law enforcement, according to the organization.

King County has a similar program called the Mobile Crisis Team, which is run by shelter and housing provider Downtown Emergency Services Center, but it’s not hardwired into the 911 system. Most referrals come from police who show up and then call the team, according to Dan Malone, the program’s executive director.

That team has 38 members and responds to about a dozen calls per day, Malone said.

“It’s busy as it is in the current configuration, so if you create a more direct way for them to be dispatched to crisis events, you’re probably going to need to increase the size,” Malone said.

Lewis’ legislation is in early stages and he said he’s open to input. But he also said that “every day we delay puts our neighbors at risk.”