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Civilian Teams Could Respond to 911 Calls Here Soon

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is considering a pilot program of two-person teams comprised of a mental health clinician and an emergency medical technician to respond to low-risk 911 calls and defuse any situation involving people going through a mental health crisis.

Person sitting in street while cop stands there.
(David Kidd)
(TNS) - Reimagining policing in Charlotte continues to be a focal point for city officials, and implementing a civilian response team for low-risk and mental health calls is one plausible recommendation that’s on the table.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is considering a pilot program of two-person teams comprised of a mental health clinician and a emergency medical technician to respond to low-risk 911 calls and defuse any situation involving people going through a mental health crisis.

The recommendation, part of the city’s SAFE Charlotte initiative, was made at Monday’s City Council meeting. It stems from a yearlong, city-funded study by RAND Corp., a research and analysis firm based in Santa Monica, California.

Last fall, the city hired RAND to analyze and research CMPD’s operations, including the department’s calls for service.

According to RAND, of the nearly 3.3 million 911 calls made from 2015 to 2020, about 16% were related to homelessness, substance abuse or mental health. Mental health made up most of those calls with 163,490.

The recommendation of a civilian response team emanated from the RAND’s data and community input, City Manager Marcus Jones told council members Monday.

“This analysis shines a light one where we need to dig deeper,” said Julia Martin of the City Manager’s office.

The two-person teams would operate from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and be deployed within a limited area experiencing high volume of calls, according to the recommendation.

A similar program launched in Fort Worth, Texas, this year, Martin said. However, there’s limited data to determine the effectiveness of such programs, she said.

A community advisory council made up of nonprofit providers and Charlotte fire, police and Mecklenburg EMS agency workers should also be established to oversee the pilot program’s implementation, RAND officials recommended.

In this year’s fiscal budget, city council approved $1.2 million in support of the pilot.

Police Chief Johnny Jennings said RAND delivered the “most comprehensive review and analysis” he’s seen in 30-year career with the department.

“We have always been, and will continue to be, a learning agency,” he said during the meeting.

CMPD traffic stops

RAND also analyzed how CMPD officers conduct traffic stops may vary depending on a driver’s race.

An Observer analysis of traffic stop data last year showed that Black motorists are disproportionately represented in traffic stops and nearly three times as likely to be searched than white drivers, even for stops as minor as seat belt violations.

A couple key findings from RAND involve racial disparities in how officers handle traffic stops. RAND found:

▪ Black drivers are nearly two times as likely to experience use of force during a traffic stop than white drivers. RAND identified 250 instances of use of force in total (out of 538,399 traffic stops in six years of data).

▪ Black drivers are nearly two times more likely to have a stop result in an arrest relative to white drivers. Hispanic, Black and Asian individuals are less likely to have the result of a stop be a written warning relative to white drivers.

▪ Both Black (almost three times) and Hispanic (1.5 times) individuals are more likely to be stopped than white individuals. When accounting for neighborhood characteristics, the rate that a Hispanic person is stopped is similar to likelihood for a white individual.

▪ No individual group is more likely to be stopped in high visibility conditions, meaning there’s no evidence that disparity in stop rates is due to department-wide racial profiling.

Through CMPD’s analysis division, Jennings said the 250 traffic stops involving force mentioned in the data was actually 150. When majority of people hear use of force, Jennings said sometimes they think of an officer striking someone, but “that’s simply not the case.”

With CMPD, officers will document use of force as someone getting a scratch on their wrist from handcuffs, or if someone is complaining of shoulder pain after being handcuffed, Jennings said.

“As we look through this data already, and as we continue to look through it, many of those are simply complaints of injury, bruises or scratches that could’ve resulted from a handcuff or something of that nature,” he said.

For increased civilian involvement in policing, RAND recommends CMPD create three civilian positions to support training academy staff. The three positions would be a curriculum developer, a learning development manager and a training specialist.

“We’re not going to ever say that we are perfect and that we try to defend any of the bad information that we might get,” Jennings said. “We will own any of that and continue to work as an agency to take this information and make us better.”

©2021 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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