06 Dec Most Want Mental Health Pros, Not Police, Responding To Crises
Over the past year and a half, the “defund the police” narrative has dominated. It’s been all over in the media, in politics and, at least for some, in discussions with friends and family. The polling is relatively clear that Americans don’t like the “defund the police” movement. But when you take that label away, you find that most Americans support the idea of mental health professionals, not police officers, responding to mental health crises.
It’s clear that many Americans will oppose the “defund the police” movement no matter what that phrase means.
According to an Ipsos/USA Today poll, fewer than one out of five support the “defund the police” movement. That polling demonstrated that Americans’ opposition to the “defund the police” movement, or at least the label, maintains regardless of their political views and race.
Just 18% of those surveyed said they supported the “defund the police” movement. Significantly more, 58%, said they opposed it. White Americans (67%) and Republicans (84%) were much more likely to oppose it. But Black Americans (28%) and Democratic voters (34%) were more likely to oppose the movement than to support it, too.
As USA Today pointed out, however, this opposition is often focused on the phrase “defund the police,” not the underlying policy positions involved. Some believe the slogan means actually getting rid of police. One man’s comments to USA Today reflected that misunderstanding. “Don’t defund the police department. We need them here to keep law and order,” Kevin Hayworth, a white, 66-year-old man from Iowa said. “We need our police department just as they are.”
But the “defund the police” movement isn’t about completely eliminating police departments and law and order. Instead, the movement centers on getting more value out of the taxpayer money spent by police departments.
As Interrogating Justice’s Ronnie K. Stephens wrote back in April, police departments often do not adequately train officers on properly responding to mental health crises. Instead of continuing to force police officers to respond to crises they’re not properly trained to respond to, the “defund the police” simply asks for mental health professionals to respond instead. And that’s something Americans overwhelmingly support.
Approximately four out of every five Americans want mental health professionals, not police, responding to mental health crises.
In July 2022, the U.S. will launch a new nationwide number for suicide and mental heath crises: 988. According to a new poll from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), this launch comes at a time when Americans are unsatisfied with the current state of mental health treatment in the U.S. And it also comes at a time when Americans overwhelmingly support mental health professionals, not police, responding to those crises.
The poll, conducted in October, surveyed more than 2,000 adults. According to the polling, 86% of Americans agree that building and providing mental health crisis services can help prevent people from cycling in and out of emergency rooms, jails and homelessness. And three out of every four are not content with the status of mental health treatment as it currently stands. (For comparison’s sake, that 75% figure is much, much higher than those who are not content with the response to medical emergencies (26%).)
What’s most significant about the polling, though, is that the overwhelming majority of Americans — four out of five — believe that mental health professionals, not police, should be the primary first responders when someone is facing a suicide or mental health crisis. This was true even though a similar majority — 72% — of those polled had a favorable opinion of police.
If four out of every five Americans want mental health professionals, not police, responding, why are we still sending police?
The takeaway from this polling is as clear as it is important. Almost all Americans want mental health professionals, not police, responding to mental health crises. This was precisely the intent behind the “defund the police” movement, too. The idea was to reallocate funding that’s currently going to police departments and send it to these mental health professionals that Americans want to be first responders.
So, if roughly 80% of Americans support this policy change, why isn’t it happening? There probably isn’t a simple answer. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that, as more and more polling supports reallocating funding and responsibility away from police, the calls for even more police funding are louder than ever.
Several cities considered, but largely failed to implement, reallocation of funding in 2020 and early 2021. Yet most have since retreated, giving police more money now than they’ve ever had before. Even at a time when you can’t go a day without seeing a “Now Hiring!” sign, some police departments are giving their officers $10,000 bonuses simply to keep working.
Ultimately, with police funding on the rise, it’s hard to imagine a turn to mental health professionals responding to mental health crises, even if that’s what four out of every five Americans want.