Los Angeles city officials move to replace some LAPD officers with unarmed crisis responders

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(CNN) — Los Angeles City Council members are angling to replace some LAPD officers with unarmed responders — and the city’s police union supports the move.

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The proposed replacements wouldn’t be affiliated with law enforcement agencies, and they’d handle nonviolent calls.

Those responders could include medical professionals, mental health workers and homeless outreach workers, Los Angeles City Council member Herb Wesson Jr. said Tuesday.

“We need to reimagine public safety in the 21st century,” Wesson said. “One which reduces the need for armed police presence, especially when the situation does not necessarily require it.”

Wesson, who was the first black President of the Los Angeles City Council, said police have gone from part of the solution to part of the problem and “may not be best equipped” to respond to non-emergency situations.

“These calls need to be directed to workers with specialized training who are better equipped to handle the situation,” Wesson said.

Wesson’s proposal is still just a motion for now, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday he would continue to work with the council on methods to improve policing, including Wesson’s motion.

The move to replace some police with trained crisis responders is one component of the movement to defund police. Supporters of defunding police — either abolishing police entirely or shrinking their departments’ budgets and reinvesting those funds in education or housing — believe that unarmed workers trained to deescalate violence could better serve some community members.

The Minneapolis City Council is taking a more radical approach than Los Angeles by moving to dismantle the city’s police force and creating a new model for public safety — one that won’t involve police. Both cities have been rocked by protests against police brutality in the weeks since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Los Angeles police union supports the plan

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a union that represents nearly 10,000 sworn personnel, said the move to replace some officers could improve outcomes between police and the communities they serve, the union said in a statement to CNN.

“We agree with Councilmember Wesson that not every call our city leaders have asked us to respond to should be a police response,” said Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL). “We are more than willing to talk about how, or if, we respond to non-criminal and non-emergency calls so we can free up time to respond quickly to 911 calls, crack down on violent and property crime, and expand our community policing efforts.”

Saggau said the LAPD could do better to meet mandated response times for emergency calls if other professionals responded to matters like mental health crisis situations, homelessness, loud music complaints and neighborhood disputes.

“We only go where policymakers say to go, and they always say ‘let’s send the police to these situations’,” Saggau said. “For years, we’ve asked why are you first dealing with the systemic issues that contribute to homelessness and mental health on the front end and why aren’t you sending folks that are trained to manage these types of situations that aren’t violent?”

The proposal to use unarmed responders comes just days after police unions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose unveiled a collective agenda calling for national police reform and pledging to root out racist officers.

“Unfortunately, there is racism in our communities and that means across our country there are some racist police officers,” the unions said in a joint statement. “Police unions must root out racism wherever it rears its ugly head and root out any racist individual from our profession.”

For more on George Floyd, click here.

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