City Council Listens on Mental Health

Photo by Atahan Demir on

There is a lot of cynicism floating around the world these days, and a whole lot of money and power trying to convince everyone that the problems are too big to solve and we should all just give up and watch whatever new streaming service is perfectly tailored to our tastes. But individuals can effect change, and small movements can grow into something that goes beyond awareness to concrete improvements in a community. One organization, founded in Minneapolis, released a paper last year arguing for mental health professionals, instead of police, being dispatched to crisis calls. The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to create round the clock mental health crisis response teams, fully funded for two years, this past Friday.

The all-volunteer CUAPB was founded in 2000 and has advocated for police reform through academic studies and legal brief, as well as supporting victims of police abuse. Last August, the group published a policy paper, providing hard data to anyone who was interested in learning how better outcomes could be achieved by mental health professionals.

Last December two council members, Cam Gordon of Ward 2 and Steve Fletcher of Ward 3, introduced a budget item to create these 24 hour response teams. The vote last Friday officially creates and funds the teams. Soon, communities all over Minneapolis will have the option to dispatch a fully trained mental health crisis team, instead of the police, when calling 9-1-1. “A lot of people are concerned about calling 9-1-1 because they don’t want a situation to get worse,” Gordon said to The Minnesota Daily. “When we have mental health crises, they do get worse.”

The Washington Post states that 181 people out of the 932 people — nearly 20% — shot and killed by police in 2020 were noted as having a mental illness. Asking a police officer to know how to correctly handle a mental health crisis when they are not properly trained is a burden to both them and the communities they serve. This program lifts that burden. One does not become an expert in mental health with a week’s worth of training, it takes years of graduate level study and discipline. Now the citizens of Minneapolis will have trained experts at their disposal, because a few volunteers found a way to communicate with civic leaders.

The hope is that this serves as an example of what can happen when a few individuals decide to affect change in their community. No problem is too large, or too small, if it matters enough to do something about it. But it does take effort and it does take time. From a paper written by volunteers last August, to legislation introduced by two concerned council members in December, to a new policy enacted by City Council in July. Not bad for one year, Minneapolis. The arc of history may bend toward justice, but it does not do so without an occasional nudge.