Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, has established a new type of first responder. Starting this September, 911 dispatchers have the option of going beyond the police, with social workers and others in related fields patrolling the city and fielding calls pertaining to mental health, substance abuse or homelessness that otherwise would have been handled by an armed officer. The members of the newly established Community Safety Department wear t-shirts, lean heavily on their de-escalation training and emphasize that they’re not there to enforce the law or make arrests. They come armed with food, water, and a desire to help. In places where this approach has been tried, the outcomes has been fewer emergency room visits, fewer jailings, and fewer police interventions. “The newest department is proving its worth whether crime is skyrocketing or whether there are issues with over-policing and racism in law enforcement. It works at both those problems,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

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