LOS ANGELES – A new city office could be formed to help communities in LA respond to crises before they escalate, and disrupt and prevent violence before it starts, thanks to legislation proposed today by city councilmembers Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and David Ryu.
The legislation directs city staff to begin the work to establish an office that would employ civilian teams, or contract with a non-profit organization, to work within communities to create public safety plans unique to neighborhoods in LA, and then implement them. Once established, when situations of interpersonal conflicts arise, mediators, conflict interrupters, and restorative justice teams could intervene if no one’s safety is at risk.
“This office could help reimagine public safety and prevent violence in our neighborhoods by working with residents and community stakeholders to address the main causes of violence,” said Harris-Dawson. “Our Community Safety Initiative in South LA is a successful example of this type of approach. Now is the time to invest resources into proven community-driven public safety solutions that keep neighborhoods safe.”
“An Office of Violence Prevention could help reimagine the way we approach public safety in Los Angeles,“ Bonin said. “Preventing violence is one of the wisest investments we can make in neighborhood safety. The city won’t need to dispatch armed, uniformed officers to respond to a 911 call if we can prevent the violence from happening in the first place. Other cities have modeled successful violence prevention programs, and Los Angeles can and must do the same.”
“We should not send a police officer to do a counselor’s job,” Ryu said. “And we do not solve issues of poverty, inequity and systemic racism with law enforcement. An Office of Violence Prevention would work to address these issues at the root, relying less on law enforcement and more on community empowerment, social services, and restorative justice. Communities should decide what makes them safe, and the resources they need to get there.”
As communities across the country are reimagining what public safety looks like, many are looking at public safety through the lens of public health. Los Angeles is beginning to consider creating alternatives to uniformed police officers responding to every emergency call and having social workers, mental health professionals, or civilian staff or volunteers respond instead in non-violent situations. In a motion introduced yesterday, Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmembers Herb J. Wesson Jr, Harris-Dawson, Curren Price, and Bob Blumenfield requested the city begin studying how LA could replace LAPD officers with unarmed, non-law enforcement agencies who will be responsible for responding to non-violent calls for service. An Office of Violence Prevention is a parallel and promising strategy to engage neighborhoods in developing their own public safety plans and working on addressing the needs in their own communities before violence starts.
Violence interruption programs have worked in other parts of the country, like Washington, DC, where information about violence is shared through personal outreach and staff members work to mediate and diffuse such conflicts. Minneapolis has also created an Office of Violence Prevention, which works with the Minneapolis Health Department, to holistically approach public safety and prevent violence before it starts. With enough resources and imagination, such programs could work in Los Angeles.
The Bonin/Harris-Dawson/Ryu legislation asks city staff to work with advocacy organizations and experts in the field of crisis response, and then to report back to the city council on models, examples and best practices for the development and implementation of violence prevention and community intervention strategies. The legislation also asks for the city to explore examples such as those in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., and to include in their report a discussion of applying such models to the unique needs of Los Angeles. The report will also include options and opportunities for the City to partner with the County of Los Angeles to provide social welfare services in these cases; as well as the potential to partner with foundations and non-profit organizations in the community.
The legislation was seconded by Councilmember Monica Rodriguez.