St. Louis’s Next Mayor Must Expand Use of Non-Police Responders

St. Louis’s Next Mayor Must Expand Use of Non-Police Responders

The Point

A key part of public safety is making sure the right people respond to the right needs. St. Louis’s next mayor can ensure that trained civilian responders, instead of armed police officers, respond to mental health and substance use crises. 

St. Louis’s mayor has the power to build an effective response to health crises: 

  • Cities across the country are establishing and expanding non-police first responder programs. St. Louis’s next mayor can push the city beyond its current program and toward an expanded non-police response to health crises.
  • On The Appeal Live, two of the city’s mayoral candidates indicated that, if elected, they intend to expand St. Louis’s alternatives to policing. Tishaura Jones said she wants to “deploy[] the right type of professionals to the right type of call” and “free up police to do police-involved work.” Cara Spencer said she would shift a “significant amount of funding into social services” to make sure people trained in social work respond to certain situations. Conversely, candidate Andrew Jones said that “police are well-trained” to respond to mental health crises. Candidate Lewis Reed was invited but did not attend the Appeal Live forum.
  • With the Cops and Clinicians program in its infancy, the future and direction of St. Louis’s alternative crisis response program is malleable. St. Louis’s next mayor should ensure that the city meaningfully shifts health crisis responses away from police and that these alternative responses are fully funded, adequately staffed, and consistently expanded. 

People with guns should not respond to people with mental health or substance use crises:

  • According to data from Mapping Police Violence, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department killed more people per capita between 2013 and 2020 than any other police department in the country. Nationally, more than a thousand people have died after being stunned with a Taser by a police officer; a quarter of those individuals “were suffering from a mental health breakdown or neurological disorder,” according to a Reuters investigation
  • Cities can reduce police violence by reducing police interactions. Cities can start reducing police interactions by identifying needs—like a wellness check or a drug overdose—that are better addressed by a clinician or doctor than an officer with a gun. 
  • While St. Louis is described as having a “weak mayor” system, the office does come with the power to appoint and oversee leaders in various city departments, including public safety. The mayor also has a platform to push conversations and exert public pressure. In short, St. Louis should not let the next mayor off the hook when it comes to making significant changes to its public safety response.

Dive Deeper

  • St. Louis Mayoral Forum. The primary in St. Louis’s mayoral election is March 2, 2021. The top two candidates will move on to the general election. Three candidates joined The Appeal Live to discuss what’s at stake.
  • Developing a Community-Based Emergency First Responders (EFR) Program. Crisis response teams should remove law enforcement from their strategies and instead build teams with medical and crisis workers who respond to emergency calls that indicate mental and behavioral health issues.
  • Community-Based Emergency First Responders: Explained. At their core, EFR programs use community-based, trained teams to respond to issues like mental health crises, substance use, and homelessness instead of relying upon armed police officers.