A study commissioned by the City of Columbus found that a majority of participants believe that non-violent calls can be dealt with by social workers or mental health professionals rather than police.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the results were presented during a virtual town hall held by the Columbus City Council called “Reimagining Public Safety.” The results found that a majority of participants favored investing in community resources and health services that would “alleviate” the burden for Columbus police responding to emergencies.
The study, conducted by Columbus PR firm The Saunders PR Group, aimed to gather public opinion on law enforcement and public safety. It consisted of data from a series of virtual town halls, focus groups and a survey of 4,000 respondents.
Gayle Saunders, founder and CEO of the Saunders PR Group and former deputy director of the city’s Department of Public Safety, claimed that the study results did not show that there was an “anti-policing” message, but rather that there was an opportunity to provide aid and “relief” to law enforcement.
The survey results found that 52% of respondents believe that wellness checks and missing person reports can be handled by both police officers and trained crisis professionals. In addition, 65% said that mental health crises and non-weapon suicide threats did not require a police response at all, and 73% had the same opinion about crises involving homeless people.
The study comes as the Columbus City Council was considering the idea of diverting some 911 calls to mental health experts or crisis mediators.
The study also found that a majority supported greater investment in social and health care services, such access to public housing and healthcare, and violence-prevention programs.
The money would likely come out of the police budget, as more Columbus residents are advocating that police spending go to social programs following last summer’s racial injustice protests helmed by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The City Council president, Shannon Hardin, also hinted at possible police defunding when advocating for using the city’s budget to stop new officer recruiting until an audit of past public safety hiring practices was completed.
Hardin’s goal, according to the Columbus Dispatch, was to divert $2.5 million dollars for police recruiting to contribute to the $10 million set aside for the “Reimagining Public Safety Fund.”
However, Hardin failed to receive six supermajority votes required for the budget amendment. The City Council will now look for another means to fund their program that plans to tackle anti-violence programs, mandating medical training for officers to be used on use-of-force victims, and developing a youth workforce plan.
Hardin praised the Saunders study calling it a “blueprint” for city leaders and the community. He said, “We want you to be part of the process, we need to hear from you. This is our opportunity; this is our chance to move our city forward.”