OPPRC Scores Victory With NOLA City Council on Help Not Handcuffs Initiative

Photo Courtesy of OPPRC

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) today moved one step closer to their goal of creating a non-police crisis response unit. By unanimous vote, the New Orleans City Council established an advisory task force that will create a model for crisis response.

Council President Helena Moreno authored the resolution to create the task force. “The need is very great,” said Moreno. The NOPD receives more than 3,000 calls a year that are mental health related. Moreno explained, “We know it’s not the NOPD’s core function to respond to mental health crises. We need to offer compassionate care, not the criminal justice system.” 

Council President Moreno said she asked for a task force rather than just introducing an ordinance because she wanted to hear from the community and the public.

Task force members will include a representative from each city council district and also include the New Orleans Health Department, the NOPD as well as other public agencies. The council amended the original resolution to include a member who has direct experience with mental illness.

Councilmember Banks said, “Mental health is not a crime and should not be treated as such.” He also said that the stigma attached to mental illness needs to go away.

Councilmember Giarrusso thanked OPPRC for creating the public process and for, “doing it right.”

Councilmember Palmer said that the proposed program, “checks a lot of boxes.” Councilmember Nguyen said this was definitely something she wanted to be involved in.

Though the council gave the task force up to six months to complete its work, expectations are high that a report will be submitted much more quickly. Work should begin in early August after the council approves the task force members.

In a statement released after the council meeting, OPPRC said that they have been working directly with the community, “to strategize on new systems and solutions to support our neighbors experiencing mental health crises in Orleans Parish including creating a non-police crisis response unit. 

“We are grateful to the New Orleans City Council for joining OPPRC and community members to create a safe alternative to calling law enforcement for mental health emergencies.

“We are encouraged that council members recognize that New Orleans needs Help Not Handcuffs, and will work to ensure that community members directly impacted by this issue are involved in every aspect of creating this non-police crisis response unit.”

OPPRC has been holding a series of “Learn and Share” community meetings where New Orleans residents have been talking about their personal interactions with the police. They have also been discussing methods to make sure neighbors in crisis receive help from a response team trained to provide medical care rather than handcuffs.

The risk of death from police intervention is seven to sixteen times greater for people with mental illness than for those without, particularly those with untreated mental illness.

“Learn and Share events have already been held in Council Districts A,B and C. The next event will be held in Council District D this Saturday, June 19th (Juneteenth) at 12 Noon at the Corpus Christi Epiphany Community Resource Center.

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