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Boston mayoral candidate John Barros pitches plan for a non-police crisis response agency

Mayoral candidate John Barros's proposal focuses on the creation of a “Safe and Healthy Communities Agency,” tasked with responding to some emergency calls.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston mayoral candidate John Barros is proposing a new “human-centered” approach to public safety that reimagines police and prioritizes violence interruption and trauma support, his campaign announced Wednesday.

The proposal focuses on the creation of a “Safe and Healthy Communities Agency,” tasked with responding to emergency calls relating to mental health, public health, and behavioral issues in schools.

The non-law enforcement agency would be equipped to de-escalate conflict and immediately connect residents with medical care, mental health treatment, emergency housing, substance use treatment, medical treatment, and trauma support, said Barros, who noted recent violence in the city.

The agency’s goal is to provide “an appropriate non-law enforcement response” to certain crises and to divert individuals in crisis away from emergency rooms and criminal justice settings, and steer them to the services they need, Barros and his campaign said.


“We have to take appropriate measures so that all Boston residents feel they will receive respectful treatment during interactions with the police and other public safety personnel,” said Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development. “As a young Black man, I’ve felt the shame and anger of being unjustly profiled by the police. I’ve also had to sit down with a family member and tell them that their father isn’t coming home because he was a victim of violence on our streets.”

He said that his proposal would help dismantle the cycles of police interaction and court involvement that perpetuate poverty, trauma, and crime.

“It will allow our police to be laser focused on their most important job: preventing and solving violent crime in our neighborhoods,” he said.

Other mayor candidates — Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Michelle Wu, and Annissa Essaibi George — have had similar proposals as they seek to woo voters for the Sept. 14 preliminary election. (The general election is Nov. 2).


Janey, who has had to address a string of police department controversies, has emphasized reform of the local criminal justice policies “to ensure that poor communities of color do not bear the brunt of harsh penalties for minor offenses,” according to her campaign.

Wu wants to restructure the culture and structure of the Boston Police Department that target youth, combat violence and hate crimes, and address racial injustice in the criminal justice system.

Campbell has proposed reallocating funding from the police budget to chronically underfunded areas including mental health treatment and violence prevention initiatives.

Essaibi George, who has called for hiring hundreds more police, pledges to reimagine 911 and decriminalize mental illness, poverty, and homelessness.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.