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Local civilians in Albuquerque pioneer innovative approaches in crisis management

Unarmed personnels difuse crisis (Via Harry Musk/Getty Images)

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a new way to handle crises is happening as unarmed civilian responders Nevada Sanchez and Sean Martin answer emergency calls. They are the first to help in a city where violent crime and police shootings are common.

Their job is to calm down situations involving mental health crises or drug problems. They use only their communication skills and smart thinking because they don’t have the power or gear that police officers do.

Their work has made a big difference. Sometimes they’ve been able to save lives. Martin remembers talking someone out of using a weapon once, stopping a dangerous situation and making sure it ended peacefully when the police came.

Albuquerque is second in the U.S. for police shootings among cities with over 250,000 people. It’s leading the way with one of the most ambitious programs for civilian responders in the country.

This program aims to help people in crisis without using police force.

Protestors talk about mental health (Via Joe Kimmich/Getty Images)

It started gaining attention after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, which showed how police can hurt marginalized groups and people dealing with mental health or drug issues.

Run by the Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS) department, the program handles most mental health calls that aren’t dangerous for responders. Police or an ACS team with a mental health expert and an officer handle the rest.

The program measures success by how many people get mental health help and how few police shootings happen. It’s also made progress in getting more housing and mental health services to people.

While it’s seen as a good way to change public safety, ACS faces problems like not having enough money to grow.

Even though money is tight, Albuquerque’s Mayor Tim Keller is determined to expand ACS. He wants to make it twice as big and give more mental health help because the demand is growing.

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