Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health & Human Services Department
Written & Researched by Richard DeShay Elliott & Martin Anthony Mitchell
State Legislative Chair, Prince George’s County Young Democrats
President, Prince George’s County Young Democrats
As was shown by the most widespread period of activism and protests in American history earlier this year, Americans and particularly young Black Americans demand change in the way our communities are policed. While we have seen several cycles of tragedy, tepid reforms and lip service to victims of police misconduct, followed by untold more tragedies, we do not need to continue this cycle. Prince George’s County, as the wealthiest majority-Black county in the United States, should set the standard for improvements to public safety that lessen the interaction between armed officers and County residents. The creation of a new agency, the Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health & Human Services Department, will grant our community the safer option of having trained psychologists, social workers, peer support specialists, crisis interventionists, and public health experts to perform wellness checks on those undergoing mental duress; to help stranded drivers who need a tow or a jump; to assist the handicapped and the elderly in day-to-day tasks; and otherwise provide for the general welfare a betterment of Prince George’s County residents. Such programs, operating in Eugene, Oregon1 & Denver, Colorado2 for years, are being introduced in San Francisco3 & Los Angeles4, and would serve to invest in community health and well-being, particularly of those who need it most.
Beyond creating a health/safety focused approach to deal with the majority of distress calls, Prince George’s County must end the failed, racist War on Drugs which has contributed to mass incarceration. Maryland currently has a 70% Black prison population, the highest percentage in the nation, and many of these incarcerated people are Prince George’s residents who have been trapped in an unjust system. By banning arrests for low-level drug possession and placing arrests for drug sales as the lowest priority, we can significantly reduce the number of County residents who become incarcerated. We must also audit past policing records to understand where Prince George’s County Police Department has succeeded and failed in providing for public safety, along with inter-departmental practices that resulted in a massive civil lawsuit alleging inter-departmental, structural racism within the Department.
The national police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, William Wallace, and so many others, have gravely affected our national conscience but have also led many to understand the fundamental role of policing in our communities. As we begin to reimagine what policing looks like in the County, we have hopes that armed officers will not be the first responders to non-violence/ non-emergency dispatch calls. Those responders will be compassionate, highly-trained, experienced, and able to deal with most mental, behavioral or other non-violent crises. What we envision is a community-oriented approach to crisis intervention and save the County time, money, and improve quality of life for all.
1 Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets. https://www.eugene-or.gov/4508/CAHOOTS
2 Denver Alliance for Street Health Response. https://dashrco.org/
3 Removing Cops From Behavioral Crisis Calls: 'We Need To Change The Model'
4 LA City Council approves plan to revamp LAPD with unarmed crisis response team
Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health and Human Service Department Act
This legislation will:
- Provide state funding to create a Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health and Human Services Department addition to the Prince George’s County government, which will be administered as a state agency under the Prince George’s County House Delegation Chair & Vice Chair until the close of Fiscal Year 2022.
- Mandate that all funding provided from local, state and federal sources serve the purpose of:
- maintaining public safety and mitigating dangers for individuals undergoing mental duress, mental illness, drug/alcohol/ and substance abuse, homelessness, family mediation, and other hazardous circumstance;
- providing check-ins and home assistance with vulnerable populations such as the elderly, non-English speaking families, the handicapped, disabled veterans, and others;
- providing assistance to drug overdose victims, alcohol abuse crisis, including intoxication;
- identifying displaced individuals in need of housing, food, clothing, etc…; treat, and connect with wrap-around services.
- otherwise providing for the general welfare and personal safety of Prince George’s County residents.
- further departmental objectives/assignments can be assigned by the Prince George’s County House Delegation Chair & Vice Chair
- Mandate that the Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health and Human Services Department will be the agency that dispatches responders and measures the effectiveness of said dispatchers on quality of life calls, mental wellness checks, and other calls as Prince George’s County Police Department, Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department, and local police departments within Prince George’s County have proven to be more dangerous than helpful.
- Until the Rapid Response Health and Human Services Department is formalized within Prince George’s County local governing structure, the agency’s hiring and decision making process will be under the jurisdiction of the Prince George’s County House Delegation Chair & Vice Chair, with assistance and guidance of the House of Delegates Public Health and Minority Disparities Subcommittee and health & criminal justice experts throughout our state and nation.
- It will be required that all operators of this service will be paid a prevailing wage.
- Require that future hiring of the leadership of the Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health and Human Services Department be hired with maximum transparency, including public access and questioning periods during interview(s) and public viewership of the past body of work and credentials of said leadership.
-For roles within the Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health and Human Services Department, preference should be for individuals who have experience in public health, de escalation, mental healthcare, social work; and ideally should have no formal law enforcement experience.
- Submit a request to the Prince George’s County Council, County Executive, State’s Attorney, Attorney General, and local Mayors/City Councils to divert funding from the Prince George’s County Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, and local police departments within Prince George’s County to the newly created Prince George’s County Rapid Response Health and Human Services Department.
- Mandate an annual study, conducted by the House Government Operations and Health Facilities Subcommittee, on the outcomes of Rapid Response calls, as compared with existing data on police calls in the past 5 years.