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Ann Arbor moves step toward call dispatch service that doesn't use armed police officers

Ann Arbor plans to develop a program to ensure armed police officers are not dispatched to calls that don't require them
Manuel Del Morai
Ann Arbor plans to develop a program to ensure armed police officers are not dispatched to calls that don't require them

A proposal to develop a service that responds to mental health emergencies and certain other calls without armed police will need more guidance from Ann Arbor's city council.

That's according to Milton Dohoney, Ann Arbor's Interim City Manager, who recently issued a report on unarmed police response, along with Assistant City Administrator John Fournier.

Dohoney said police department administrators themselves acknowledge that there are many situations -- in addition to mental health crises -- where an armed officer isn't necessary, such as neighbor disputes, inebriated individuals, or homeless encampments.

"And so we need to figure out what makes sense, and what's feasible in Ann Arbor, what can we afford to do and is it something that a third party can manage," he said.

Dohoney said the city could potentially take steps other than setting up an entirely new, and separate, program, with a different phone number to call for help besides 9-1-1.

For example, the city could potentially increase support for an existing mental health crisis response program run by the Washtenaw County Sheriff and Community Mental Health. That program does currently take some calls from the Ann Arbor Police Department.

The report also notes that the Ann Arbor Fire Department might be able to assist with medical transport calls and other types of services that don't require an armed police response.

Dohoney said Ann Arbor City Council's next step is to decide whether and how much of the city's federal American Rescue Plan funds to use to jump start a program.

But he said long-term funding of any new services will have to be considered. "It is certainly accurate to say we couldn't absorb it within the current budget."

Dohoney said city officials, council members, and city residents will also need to set up ways to discuss the issue.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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