Study: Majority of 911 Calls in New Orleans Don’t Require Police

Photo Credit: Bart Everson | License

In a time when the New Orleans Police Department is grossly understaffed and overtaxed, a new study has found that the majority of 911 calls received in the city are for non-criminal situations that don’t require a police presence at all.

In an analysis of publicly available 911 data, the Vera Institute of Justice – a nonpartisan group comprised of hundreds of researchers and advocates – found that over 61 percent of 911 calls in New Orleans are for non-criminal situations. This indicates that city residents are relying on police response to situations that present no imminent public safety risk, and have little to do with crime.

Image Source: Vera Institute for Justice

“This analysis of 911 data suggests that police, who are uniquely empowered among first responders to use force and make arrests are inappropriate responders for a substantial portion of the concerns that community members bring to the attention of emergency communications centers,” the Vera Institute study states. “Yet despite this reality, existing 911 systems are designed to primarily deliver police responses.”

For these types of calls, police response is almost never the answer and can actually make the situation worse. “Unnecessarily dispatching armed officers to calls where their presence is unnecessary is more than an ineffective use of safety resources; it can also create substantially adverse outcomes for individuals with behavioral health disorders and disabilities, and other groups who have been disproportionately affected by the American Criminal Justice System,” states the Center for American Progress in a similar report on this issue.

Instead, the Vera Institute study states, New Orleans local government should partner with community organizations to identify the opportunities for civilian emergency first responder programs. These teams could respond to issues such as mental health crises, substance use disorders, health and safety check-ins, and issues with homelessness, freeing up police officers to respond to more urgent needs.

In a city where the average police response time is over two hours, such a program could be incredibly practical.

These programs are immensely popular – a national poll from Data for Progress and The Lab showed that 65 percent of likely voters support reallocating some police budget to non-police first responder programs. Support was also incredibly bipartisan, with 80 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of Republicans, and 60 percent of independent or third-party voters supporting the idea.

In addition to being popular, these programs can also be cost-effective. The American Rescue Plan offers to reimburse communities up to 85 percent of the costs of creating civilian emergency first response teams to handle 911 calls instead of police.

“Rather than relying on police, many calls that currently prompt a police response could instead be addressed by a range of civilian responders, such as crisis workers, peer support specialists, and credible messengers,” the study concludes.

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