COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The City of Columbus has programs in place to answer certain 911 calls with alternative responses to the typical police response, but some residents want the city to take those programs further.
Some of the city’s alternative response programs have been around for more than three years, while one is still in its first year. This group wants the city to add another.
“The purpose of the People Safety Forum is for the people of Columbus to hear a different vision for the future of our public safety system,” said Stephen David with the Columbus Safety Collective.
Dozens of people gathered at a downtown Columbus church Wednesday, sharing stories, listening, and talking. The topic was developing a non-police response model to certain emergencies, specifically mental health emergencies.
“I’d like to see a non-police response system funded by the City of Columbus,” said Columbus Safety Collective member Chana Wiley.
Wiley’s brother, Jaron Thomas, died in police custody in 2017. She said he was suffering from a mental crisis.
A federal judge cleared Columbus police in a wrongful death lawsuit, but now she, along with the Columbus Safety Collective, is pushing for a type of emergency response that does not involve the police.
“What the city currently has isn’t enough,” David said. “It lacks this critical piece of a non-police team going out to the scene of an active emergency.”
The Columbus Division of Police has a mobile crisis response unit that has mental health clinicians working with a team of officers. The Right Response Unit is in its first year. It has a mental health specialist working with 911 dispatchers.
According to the Columbus Department of Public Safety, 58 percent of the calls it handled in its first six months ended without police or fire needing to be sent out.
The collective is looking for funding for a new program in the city’s 2023 budget.
Part of a statement from a spokesperson for Mayor Andrew Ginther reads, “We are excited about the early promise of our alternative response programs. Providing our residents the right response at the right time is a priority and commitment we are looking to expand upon.”
“Those are good programs and we would like to see some of those continue, but there’s this really critical piece right now of people knowing they can call 911 and get a response that doesn’t involve law enforcement and we don’t currently have that,” David said.
The Columbus Department of Safety said it is looking into a program that doesn’t involve a police response for certain calls.