This article was originally published on Wednesday, November 24, 2021 in Concentrate and was written by Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder.
The recently formed Coalition for Re-envisioning Our Safety (CROS) is asking Washtenaw County residents to sign a petition to support a proposed pilot plan for non-police responses to crisis situations in Ann Arbor. The two-year plan is the coalition's response to a resolution Ann Arbor City Council passed in April, directing the city administrator to create an unarmed public safety response program by December.
Formed just weeks after the resolution's passing, CROS is a multi-racial, diverse coalition of faith leaders, social workers, therapists, public health and health care workers, researchers, community builders, racial justice organizers, and activists. They share a common interest in transformative justice and creating care-based community safety practices.
"Public safety should be about caring for everybody with no exception — no matter what they look like, how they act, who they are, or where they come from," says CROS member Rev. Donnell Wyche. "That's an invitation for us as a community to imagine building a care-based approach to public safety."
Wyche is also the lead pastor and head of staff at the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. He explains that he, like many other CROS members, works very directly with community members. Situations that have arisen in his and other CROS members' communities have sometimes highlighted the limitations of the responses that they might get from 911.
He points to a recent personal experience that happened when COVID-19 vaccinations were just becoming available. Vineyard Church had just reopened for outdoor, socially-distanced and masked events. Wyche had kindly asked a constituent to observe social distancing protocols and was met with no resistance. However, when that person later observed Wyche (who was vaccinated) in close proximity to his coworker (also vaccinated), the constituent took it as an insult and got very angry. The situation got to the point where, fearing violence, another church member asked if they should call the police.
"I was on my knees on the ground putting a sign together and this individual was screaming and really over me and I was scared," Wyche says. "My mind was racing. I didn't call 911, because I didn't feel that an armed response would deescalate the situation, but I also feared that it was going to be the day that I would be physically assaulted."
The need for a community resource other than 911 is a major highlight of CROS' proposed pilot program. CROS is suggesting a separate public phone number (such as 311), independent from 911 dispatch.
"Say a person is being evicted and it's creating a crisis for them in the moment," Wyche says. "911 isn't going to dispatch a person with a moving truck and a storage unit and help that distressed person pack all their things, and then get them connected with resources that already exist in the community."
Wyche has been pleased with community response to the petition — nearly 400 people had signed it at press time. CROS has had a number of meetings with Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and city council members to discuss the feasibility of the pilot, which would require an annual budget of roughly $3 million. As they proceed, the group continues to spotlight existing models for the proposed pilot, which have already been successfully implemented in other parts of the country.
"All of the programs we looked into are really good, but there's one in Olympia, Wash., that we're excited about," Wyche says. "What we've been telling city council is that this could work for us too. None of these other cities are saying, 'Well, gosh, we shouldn't have ever done this.'"
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at email@example.com.