Washtenaw County community coalition plans to create unarmed, non-police crisis response program

Following several months of community engagement and research, the Coalition for Re-Envisioning Our Safety (CROS) has announced plans to create an unarmed, non-police response program for Ann Arbor – and, eventually, all of Washtenaw County.

Focused on transformative justice and creating care-based community safety practices,
CROS is a diverse coalition of faith leaders, social workers, therapists, public health and health care workers, researchers, community builders, racial justice organizers, and activists. The group formed last April in response to an Ann Arbor City Council resolution that directed the city administrator to develop an unarmed public safety response program by December 2021. 

Recognizing that there are community members who don't feel safe calling 911, the CROS plan centers on creating a community phone number that is separate from 911 dispatch. Line operators would provide support with mental health, issues of conflict, public assistance, transportation, and more.

"We need a form of crisis response that is care-based and non-punitive and that cares for every single person in our community, and we're more confident now than ever that this can be a reality," says CROS member Hoai An Pham. 

Since CROS initially proposed a two-year pilot plan for non-police response to crisis situations in Ann Arbor last November, group members have been busily engaging with residents, community leaders, and government officials. The program, which is seeking $3 million in public funding, now has formal endorsements from over 850 individual supporters and over 40 local community organizations who have signed a CROS petition.

"Luckily, a lot of residents in the county are willing to support us as we move forward. We've been grateful for support from places that work with a lot of folks who are more impacted, such as Neutral Zone and United Way," Pham says.

CROS members have also had discussions with numerous people and other organizations across the country who are in various stages of implementing unarmed, non-police response programs in their own cities. Pham says CROS has drawn valuable guidance for implementation from those conversations.

"We've been able to learn a lot from their research and outcomes," Pham says. "Creating unarmed, non-police response programs is not new ground. It's just fresh, new ground for our community."

To get to the next stages of the program, CROS will be restructured into two separate branches. One branch will continue with outreach efforts in Ann Arbor, and eventually throughout Washtenaw County. The second group will focus on the actual logistical details of setting up the program. 

The group is seeking grants and outside funding that will allow it to continue to move forward in a research-based manner. Group members have been excited by the support they've received from local government, and in the near future they hope that translates into tangible financial support. Pham stresses, however, that if funds become available, CROS "will not compromise our values and our community for any kind of money."

"There is widespread recognition that resources and supports are needed rather than police and guns in many situations," Pham says. "We hope that council members and city officials back these words up by investing in, and supporting, care-based responses that are not police co-response and are completely separate from police and police dispatch."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of CROS.