COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mental health nonpolice violence response programs are top of mind for the Columbus Safety Coalition.
After the mayor's announcement of the proposed budget, dozens of people gathered on the steps of Columbus City Hall urging council to take action and use the allocated city funds for the alternative response programs.
They say response to a mental health crisis should look different from response to a crime. The group says alternative crisis response programs are what mental health emergencies need and the Columbus Safety Coalition says it is time for the city to make a change.
An alternative response program would not consist of police officers, but would instead consist of clinicians, peer support and mental health professionals who know how to diffuse a mental health emergency.
Columbus resident Chana Wiley lost her brother, Jaron Thomas, who was struggling with mental health issues. He contacted 911 and was arrested and eventually died in police custody. His family sued, but the case was dismissed. Wiley believes her brother would still be alive if the right professionals were able to help.
“If this were your son or your mother or father, what would you do? How would you feel if your family was brutalized by excessive force and all they need is help. You know, they have a disability, you know, kind of what would you do if it was your child you know? Would you move quicker? Would there be a sense of urgency? And we would like you to treat all the residents in Columbus like we are your family,” said Columbus Safety Coalition advocate, Chana Wiley.
City leaders say they appreciate the work of the Columbus Safety Coalition and that they are in the beginning stages of creating nonpolice response programs because they too think it is important for the community.
“I agree with them. We’ve been working at it and we need to get it done or at least get more progress moving forward. And I appreciate their advocacy and appreciate them encouraging the city to go in this direction because I wholeheartedly agree that it’s a direction we need to go in,” said Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin.