Diversify our public safety infrastructure to ensure that our responses to people in need are appropriate for the nature of the call and humane to all parties involved.
For decades now, all levels of government have whittled away at the funding for many social and community services. As a result, when things go wrong, rather than having the appropriate resources and personnel available, our emergency response system simply sends police officers.
While it is true that the Cleveland Heights Police Department holds a higher standard in their hiring practices than many other departments around the nation, many of the calls our police are responding to fall outside the scope of their academy training.
This is the case across the country. As Dallas Police Chief David Brown stated in 2016:
“Every societal failure, we put it on the cops to solve. . . . Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops. . . . loose dog problem. Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. . . . That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
I agree with Chief Brown. We need to build a more robust public safety and well-being network of services, including social workers, mental health and addiction counselors, conflict mediation experts, traffic officers, and a fully funded animal control department.
Police officers are taught about the laws and statutes, about the criminal system and enforcement. But when an autistic adult is in the throes of a panic attack, or there is a nonviolent dispute between neighbors, or a troubled child is lashing out at school, these people need resources not provided in most police academies’ toolboxes.
When police training primarily focuses on taking actions that involve a criminal enforcement response, but police are being called to incidents that are not crimes, the result is that many people end up entering the criminal justice system when the situation could have been handled differently. We know that being put into the criminal justice system can have devastating impacts on people’s life opportunities as well as on their families and communities. We need a public safety infrastructure that does not subject our citizens to this unnecessarily.
How I Will Support Our Public Safety and Well-Being
Because we share our 911 dispatch center with Shaker Heights, Richmond Heights, South Euclid, and University Heights, I will first reach out to neighboring city leadership to begin an ongoing discussion of how we can coordinate to expand and improve services to help people when they are in distress.
I propose that we establish a working group of community leaders, the chiefs of fire and police departments, and community service departments and organizations to:
- assess our current needs based on up-to-date data,
- explore all area organizations that are available to diversify services, and then
- evaluate how to allocate resources to best serve our community.
We will look at:
- supporting preventative services, such as poverty reduction, family support, and education;
- expanding training for our dispatch center, our police officers, fire department, EMS personnel, social workers, and so on; and
- forging partnerships with aligned organizations, such as MetroHealth, NAMI Cleveland, and Greater Cleveland Congregations, to ensure that every responder has a network of resources for meeting people’s needs.
Our working group will use extensive data, public safety and well-being experts, community representatives, and, above all else, a commitment to reasonableness and humanity to promote the best outcomes for everyone in Cleveland Heights and our neighboring cities.