The recent lawsuit against the Buffalo Police Department stemming from BPD Captain Amber Beyer’s alleged racist tirade last May, while discouraging, is not surprising. After decades of an ingrained culture of racism, members of the community expect the unacceptable of the BPD.
What is most disheartening about this particular case is the fact that Beyer was, and continues to be, the leader of the BPD Behavioral Health Team, which is responsible for supporting some of the most vulnerable members of our community at a very difficult time. delicate, in full crisis. mental health crisis.
The BHT was proposed after an elderly black homeless man was shot by a police officer during a mental health call. A call about a man who yelled for three hours prompted numerous officers to chase him down the street, guns drawn. After trying to ward off what he perceived to be a threat, he was shot twice in the abdomen. Rather than view this as evidence that police are not equipped to respond to mental health crises, the city has redoubled its efforts and established a joint response team of officers and physicians to respond to all behavioral health calls, regardless of the level of risk. For many people, an armed and authoritative officer creates fear instead of reassurance, and an unnecessary police presence can undermine peaceful resolutions. The mismatch is deadly: People with mental health problems are 16 times more likely to be killed by police than those without a diagnosis.
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Recognizing the urgency, cities across the country are moving away from joint response and law enforcement models toward community response teams consisting of health professionals and peers fielding low-risk 911 calls without police. . They address immediate needs and link people to longer-term care while avoiding the harm that results from a mismatched police response. Buffalo is more than ready for a community response team.
Demand for a health-focused, non-police response has only been growing since 2020. Earlier this year, Black Love Resists in the Rust completed our Public Safety Survey. We surveyed more than 200 black Buffalonians. When asked about their preference around nonviolent emergency response, 46% of participants said they would prefer a near complete reduction in the overall reliance on police as first responders or a greater emphasis on first responders who are unarmed and without the immediate threat of arrest. And, this September, in honor of Daniel Prude, who was killed by Rochester police during a mental health response call, dozens of Buffalo residents came together to imagine what a local community response team would look like.
We have suffered enough. Our mental health is affected for a number of reasons, and across the United States we are seeing an increase in 911 calls involving mental health crisis cases. The recent news about Beyer’s racist tirade only highlights the need to establish community response teams that have the necessary skills, training, and compassion to respond to our people with care.
Kathryn Franco is a social worker and Bianca Bassett is a mental health professional. Both are members of Black Love Resists in the Rust.