Providence Finance Committee discusses adding social services response unit in city

The Providence Finance Committee discussed the possible creation of a social services unit within public safety at their meeting Tuesday night.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) –  The Providence Finance Committee discussed the possible creation of a social services unit within public safety at their meeting Tuesday night.

The unit would respond to calls that don’t require law enforcement.

The bulk of the meeting was centered around an existing program in Oregon which has been around the last 30 years and acts as a third arm to public safety for when people
need mental health or harm reduction services.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, many Providence residents have been asking the city council to consider defunding the police department.

“Right now we’re on a spectrum of either abolish the police, or reform the police, or do nothing,” said Finance Committee Chair John Igliozzi.

Tuesday the finance committee discussed a different option on that spectrum which would
create a social services response unit within public safety.

It would respond to 9-1-1 calls dealing with homelessness, drug abuse, and mental health issues, among other things.

“We keep on hiring electricians to do plumbing work,” said Igliozzi. “So what I was envisioning is we hire plumbers to do plumbing work, electricians for electric.”

The councilors asked questions of Tim Black most of the evening who works with CAHOOTS.

The Oregon organization works in two person teams, one of which is a medic, and arrives at 9-1-1 calls that don’t require police.

On average Black told the committee they respond to 20 percent of 9-1-1 calls.

“Many communities are conditioned to call no matter what is wrong, the police is who you’re taught to call,” said Black. “So we saw this opportunity additionally for people who were experiencing something so acute, so emergent that 911 felt like the only appropriate number to call, but for whom cahoots was the right response.”

Though the council members noted many positives about the program, some pointed out
the demographics of the cities in Oregon are much different than those in Providence, which would likely require a different approach.

“As we think about social climate, as we think about the demographics of our community, and the needs of our community, one thing we have to be mindful of is that the community is saying that ‘we want something that’s completely independent from the police,” said Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune.

How this program would be paid for and how it would mesh with police and fire in the city will be discussed at a later date with input from the full council and city administration.

Categories: News, Providence, Rhode Island