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Boston councilors propose diverting nonviolent 911 calls away from police

A Boston police officer stood near a protest on June 4.
A Boston police officer stood near a protest on June 4.Maddie Meyer/Getty

A trio of Boston city councilors are proposing a crisis response system that would divert nonviolent 911 calls away from police.

Councilors Michelle Wu, Lydia Edwards, and Julia Mejia said the ordinance, filed on Friday, would offer “an alternative response from non-law enforcement agencies.”

According to the councilors, Boston police “routinely responds to nonviolent calls for service involving mental health, homelessness, substance use, and traffic crashes, which are matters beyond the scope of law enforcement’s function and would be better served by a public health response.”

The idea comes amid a broader discussion about police reform triggered by mass protests both locally and nationwide in recent weeks. The demonstrations have focused mostly on the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota but also on the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and police brutality and racial inequality at large.

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Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on Memorial Day when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT killed in March by police executing a “no-knock” warrant on her home.

In Boston, some have advocated for cuts to police funding, specifically the department’s overtime budget. Under a plan from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the city would reroute $12 million from the Boston Police Department’s overtime spending — about 20 percent of its overtime budget — to social services.

In addition, the mayor named former US attorney Wayne Budd to lead a commission, made up of members of the legal community, faith community, and civil rights activists, to review police use-of-force policies and other equity issues in the Boston Police Department.

Now, Wu, Edwards, and Mejia are calling for the city to develop a crisis-response plan for nonviolent emergency calls within 90 days. According to those councilors, the plan should connect people in need to service providers “and replace law enforcement presence in nonviolent, non-criminal situations with a range of unarmed service providers, including health care professionals, mental health workers, outreach workers specializing in outreach to residents experiencing homelessness, and other unarmed professionals with specialized training.”

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Other American cities, including Dallas, New Orleans, and Miami, have implemented emergency response alternatives that have reduced arrest rates and homelessness, while cutting costs that are associated with transporting people who are in custody, hospitalization, and incarceration, according to the proposal.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office said it will review the proposal. The matter is expected to be discussed at next Wednesday’s council meeting.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.