The Government Law Center at Albany Law School Releases New Explainer on Alternatives to Police as First Responders

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As local and state governments throughout the United States re-examine their approaches to policing, the Government Law Center at Albany Law School has released a new explainer describing crisis response programs that may be additions to, or alternatives for, police being first responders in emergency situations.

The explainer examines how police are first responders to 911 calls related to mental health, homelessness, and substance abuse, but often don’t have adequate training to deal with the situations. The explainer goes on to show how cities such as Austin, Texas; Eugene, Oregon; Olympia, Washington; and Edmonton, Canada, have adopted programs augmenting police responses with social workers, mental health counselors, and medical staff to provide more appropriate services and reduce government spending.

“There has been increased scrutiny on police policies and practices since the killing of George Floyd, following over 100 years of American police reform movements. However, some cities have already changed their approaches to policing. I wanted to show that there are specific solutions to these problems,” said author Matt DeLaus, who is in his second year of a dual J.D./M.P.A. program at Albany Law School and the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. He is a Government Law Center Fellow and intern at the Center. 

“As we continue to grapple with the roles that police, policing, and policy have on our communities—especially communities of lower-income residents and residents of color—we need to have solid research to move forward with,” said Professor Ava Ayers, Director of the Government Law Center, who helped DeLaus research and edit the explainer. “I hope the work that Matt has done on this document will help leaders in other municipalities see that alternatives to a ‘police-only’ response approach can change and benefit not only those dealing with the emergencies, but the community as a whole.”

The explainer—the first written solely by an Albany Law student and in a new line exploring alternative topics—is the latest in a series from the Government Law Center that maps out laws and practices applicable to important questions of public policy. The Center has previously written explainer documents on the Supreme Court and election law, immigration, aging and disability policies, and economic relief for small businesses. Each of those are available on the Center’s website.

Beyond the current explainer, the Government Law Center is continuing its work studying and advising on policing issues, and the Center is a partner with the Albany Community Police Review Board, which is an independent body established to improve communication between the police and the community.