A Guide for Ann Arbor City Officials To Improved Public Safety Services

Ann Arbor City Officials have wisely decided to expand the unarmed crisis response program.  This effort promises to improve local public safety and mental health services.  The conditions are right for success.

  • Police reform and the provision of public safety are pressing issues.

  • Recognition is growing that the number of people living with mental health issues is increasing and that our current policies are inadequate to meet this challenge.

  • The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage (“Millage”) provide the means to implement local reforms that can be leveraged to access state and federal resources.

Six Essential Elements of a Successful Crisis/Distress Response System

Sources:  RI International, 18 pages SAMHSA, 80 pages.

  1. Call Center (s):  One or more call centers with well-trained, caring staff must be available to answer calls, provide immediate counseling and guidance, and if needed, hand off the caller to an appropriate follow-up.  The call center(s) must have sufficient capacity to handle the volume of calls.

  2. No Wrong Number:  The staff of the call centers must have the skills and the technical equipment to redirect callers, without hanging up and redialing, to the appropriate call center when the caller has not called the most appropriate center.

  3. Mobile Response Teams:  Mobile response teams with appropriate staff must be available to quickly travel to the location of the person in crisis or distress when this is needed.  To state the obvious, there must be sufficient teams and equipment to meet the need.

  4. A Place To Go In the Short Term, e.g., 20 Hours:  Some clients need stabilization and assessment services or need a safe place away from the location of the crisis, for example, separation of people in the case of domestic violence.  Mobile response teams should have options for destinations that emphasize care, empathy, and assessment and that are not affiliated with law enforcement.

  5. Anytime:  The response system must operate 24/7.

  6. Service Providers To Take Over After the Short Term:  Many clients need additional services after short term assessment and stabilization.  The response system must have staff with the knowledge, persuasiveness, and persistence to. accomplish this whenever possible.

Principles That Should Guide the Work of City and County Officials

The following principles are a guide for City and County officials in this important work.  (Click on the links in each part to go to a more detailed discussion.)  The report Washtenaw Crisis Services Assessment is a thoughtful overview of our local situation as of 2018.

    A.   Policies should focus on deflecting people with pressing crises related to mental health conditions from criminal justice and law

enforcement procedures and instead connecting them with appropriate services.  This will require public education as well as civil service training on the options for help.  It will also require increased support for, and use of, unarmed crisis response teams.

     B.  Officials should give special attention to ameliorating the mental health problems of children and youth.

     C.  Public officials should emphasize the construction of policies and procedures which will support use of 988 (a national 24/7

3-digit telephone number to access health services) which will be launched in mid-2022.

     D.  The planning and implementation of policies should recognize the expertise readily available in our community.  First and foremost,

policy development and implementation should incorporate the insights of those with lived experience (a.k.a. peer support specialists) dealing with mental health conditions, substance abuse, domestic violence, unstable housing, and other conditions often correlated with emergency crises.  Second, City and County officials should collaborate because both bring institutional strengths and contextual insights to policy formation and implementation.  Third, policy makers should engage in two-way dialogue with the experts in local institutions such as i) the two major medical centers, ii) two major universities and the community college, iii) National Alliance on Mental Illness - Washtenaw County, and iv) Center for Health and Research Transformation.

     E.  Public officials should know that people — not abstract “institutions” — implement policies.  While well-designed institutions lay

the foundation for good services, the institutions count for little if officials and policies have not also given careful thought to recruiting, training, and retaining good employees.

      F.  Policies should include an explicit evaluation component so they can analyze improvements over time and improve outcomes.  They

should know whether, and how, residents change their approach to accessing crisis response services and whether they become more or less satisfied with their access to these services.

Click here to view the positions of other organizations on an unarmed response program.

Click here for descriptions of unarmed response programs in other cities.