My Love Letter to the Possibility of Transformative Change in Public Safety
Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in an unhealthy relationship. After too many painful and harmful incidents to ignore, I decided to prioritize myself and began the steps of removing myself from the partnership.
He lived with me, so clearly he would have to leave. Unsurprisingly, he refused, which forced me to court to ask for a restraining order and to have him move out. After a long battle with a reluctant judge, I was granted both.
Finally, my former partner moved out. I changed the locks, blocked his number and began to get on with my life, although I was always fearful that he would appear at my doorstep to test me. One evening, he did.
I was alone in my living room when I saw him walk up the steps to my front door. I immediately stood, looked at him through the window and yelled at him to leave. He did not. I told him that he was violating the restraining order. He stared at me. When I realized that he did not intend to leave, I told him that I was calling the police. And I did.
I did not want to call 911. I didn’t want the police involved, nor did I really want him arrested, but I certainly wanted him gone and to leave me alone. The truth is, I had no one else to call. I didn’t have a big brother, a mean uncle or even a male friend who I wanted to involve in a personal and demeaning matter.
When I called 911, the voice on the other end asked if I had a restraining order. I said yes and was told that a car would be on the way. Then I waited. I waited a very scary and excruciating 45 minutes for the police to arrive.
I didn’t know at the time that law enforcement dislike responding to calls like mine for a number of reasons. More officers die in the line of duty responding to domestic violence calls than any other type of call. A Department of Justice study showed that 40 percent of officer deaths are related to domestic violence calls. Law enforcement also do not take those calls seriously. In the 1980s, police were trained to screen domestic violence calls and delay response. Officers hoped that problems would resolve themselves without intervention.
True to that practice, by the time an officer arrived, the problem had left.
The officer asked if the person was still around, what happened, whether or not I could produce my restraining order, if I wanted to file a report and if, in fact, the apartment was mine. After seemingly being satisfied with my responses, the officer talked me out of filing a police report. As he prepared to get into his car, he said to me, “You know, you should have made a better choice in men.”
This is one reason why we need the CRISES Act, AB 2054.
Granted, my call didn’t put me at physical risk by the officer. While one in 1,000 Black men will be killed by the police, only one in 33,000 women will be killed by the police. Any number, however, is too high.
My call also was not in response to a mental health episode or an issue with substance abuse. A Los Angeles Police Department Internal Review revealed that 37 percent of police shootings involved suspects with documented signs of mental illness. As a result of the George Floyd killing, many city officials have begun to rethink funding for police departments and have decided to end police response to nonviolent activity, including calls about homelessness, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse.
My call was, however, a call made by a young woman, alone, in an emergency and in need of a resolution without judgment. My call was also not unique. In fact, 95.6 percent of calls to police are non-violent. Most calls made to the police are in response to an alarm, theft, parking or noise violations, welfare checks or public hazards. They require problem-solving skills, not force, arrest or death.
If AB 2054 were law, the first responder on the line would be a trained practitioner, versed in cycles of domestic violence. The responder would understand the importance of a timely and prepared response, loaded with supports and consequences rooted in accountability. They also would recognize that their active engagement and attention to de-escalating or resolving my emergency is what builds community trust rather than eviscerates that trust.
I am older now and rarely think of this incident, but it is a real example of the importance of the CRISES Act and why I, like so many people who seek help, are hesitant and skeptical about law enforcement’s ability and willingness to change its culture to fit these times.
As a three-year pilot program, AB 2054 has the potential to demonstrate new ways to respond to emergencies. The legislation creates an opportunity for law enforcement to focus on criminal acts, improving their outcomes and reducing the likelihood of lawsuits. The bill forces us to re-engage in real, non-carceral solutions to many of the social implications of poverty and sickness that we have ignored.
A good friend of mine declared that AB 2054 is a love letter to the possibility of what transformative public safety can look like, trusting that communities know how to self-police and hold themselves accountable. The CRISES Act steps into the gaps of where law enforcement and reactionary policy have failed our communities and declares that poverty, mental illness, substance abuse and faulty personal management skills are not crimes. And the bill should be signed by Governor Newsom now.