SAN DIEGO — A new set of reforms would change the way San Diego County handles some emergency calls, establish a new equity office and provide more oversight for local law enforcement, supporters said Friday.
The policies were proposed by County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who announced the initiatives in a news conference with a group of leaders from San Diego’s black community.
The law enforcement components of the plan would apply to San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, not San Diego Police Department, which is governed by the city, Fletcher said.
The reforms take aim at three general policy goals. Reach the details of each one by clicking on the text:
- preventing law enforcement from being first on the scene to mental health and homeless calls,
- providing more oversight for law enforcement in the county, and
- establishing a new Office of Equity and Racial Justice
The concept of having different kinds of emergency workers respond to calls about people who are homeless or having a mental health crisis is gaining popularity with reformers around the country, as one line of thinking in the broader “defund the police” movement.
Under the plan, trained social workers or mental health professionals would respond to some non-violent emergency calls. Fletcher said that could mean redirecting the response to some 911 calls, but also establishing an emergency number aside from 911, specifically for people seeking help from an agency other than police.
The idea behind the proposal is that armed, uniformed officers might not be best equipped to help with behavioral and social issues, and that their presence can help escalate situations into violent episodes.
Critics of such initiatives have questioned the safety of the unarmed workers sent to respond to calls, and say that taking money away from police departments to fund such projects will make policing more difficult, not improved.
The other two proposals would seek to strengthen the oversight power of the county’s citizen law enforcement review board, and to establish a new Office of Equity and Racial Justice for the county, which would influence policy-making and other decisions.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposals in a meeting on June 23, Fletcher said, and while each one of the three reforms can be approved or disapproved on their own, the supervisor referred to them as a “package.”
“I don’t want to take a half-step,” he told reporters.
The policies were backed on Friday by Buki Domingos, founder of the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego; Ellen Nash, chair of the board at Black American Political Association of California; Alexander Khalid, president and founder at Pillars of the Community; and Maresa Talbert, co-chair of San Diegans for Justice.