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Council gets more advice on Office of Community Safety


At a special meeting following Monday’s Fayetteville City Council session, officials received more guidance and information about statewide alternative response programs as the city works to build out its Office of Community Safety (OCS).

Jaelyn Miller, an attorney at Emancipate North Carolina, a nonprofit based in Durham, gave council members tips and provided background information about community safety initiatives. Miller has worked with several cities on alternative public safety initiatives like the OCS, including Durham’s program, which was among the first in the state and is often referenced in Fayetteville’s OCS discussions.  

Miller said her organization has been visiting various municipalities across the city “to help cities better understand why these programs are effective and help with their desire to implement them.”

The presentation followed a similar discussion on the OCS’s future led by Dr. Gerard Tate, the director of the N.C. Office of Violence Prevention within the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety, on Feb. 5. 

Miller said, contrary to popular belief, alternative response programs are not replacing law enforcement or defunding police departments. Rather, Miller said, the programs are geared toward freeing up police resources for crime-solving, reducing negative interactions between police and people with mental illnesses, and reducing overcrowding in jails and emergency departments. 

Miller said research shows alternative response programs have saved taxpayer money and decreased the overall crime rate. 

“What we see from these programs is that when resources, police resources, are not being depleted by these mental health calls, they're able to be diverted and focused on violent crime,” Miller said. “And that's why we see a reduction in the crime rate.”

Miller also highlighted key national statistics relating to mental health, police interactions and alternative response teams: 

  • Individuals with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during police incidents
  • An estimated one in four people killed by police were experiencing a mental health crisis
  • Black Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed if they have a mental illness than their white counterparts who do not have a mental illness.

Miller also referenced a study that found mental illness-related service calls use 87% more police resources than interventions with individuals who do not have a mental illness.

In addition, Miller said mental-health-related emergency room visits decrease substantially in communities with alternative response programs. 

“Typically the reduction is between 50 and 60%, so it's very successful at reducing emergency room visits for mental health crises,” Miller said. 

Still, the presentation and short discussion following it did not lead to any decision or new, concrete plans for Fayetteville’s OCS at Monday’s meeting. Council Member Malik Davis and Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Jensen each expressed frustration with the seemingly repetitive nature of conversations about forming the OCS. Davis said he would like some new information to move the conversation forward and create additional momentum for council action. 

“I'm at the place where I need something new to make me even more excited because I've been hearing the same thing over and over again,” Davis said. “So as we bring new people in, on both sides of the spectrum, we just need new information to get us more excited so that we can hurry up and vote on this.” 

Mayor Mitch Colvin suggested that conversations regarding the OCS were somewhat limited by Fayetteville and Cumberland County elected officials not always seeing eye-to-eye. 

“We're not as fortunate here as some municipalities that have 100% cooperation with their county officials,” Colvin said. “But we're working on it.”

Miller said Emancipate North Carolina had helped facilitate meetings with the counties and cities on this topic before and offered to do that for Fayetteville. Council Member Deno Hondros expressed enthusiasm for the prospect. 

Though progress on the OCS has been slow, Colvin reaffirmed that the city was planning to hold a public safety summit on the OCS with experts in alternative community response — which he invited Miller to attend — but said he did not know the date at this time. 

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608. 

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OCS, Office of Community Safety, police, mental health