OKC is seeking proposals for civilian responders to 911 calls involving the homeless

Oklahoma City is seeking proposals for a non-police response to some 911 calls involving the homeless.

Local organizations can submit bids starting Wednesday to head the pilot program that will be funded by the city manager's office. The city would like to see organizations provide two teams, each with a licensed professional counselor, and offer hours that expand on those of current homeless outreach teams.

A person sits on the ground March 3 near the Jesus House in downtown Oklahoma City.
A person sits on the ground March 3 near the Jesus House in downtown Oklahoma City.

Ward 2 Councilor James Cooper has been advocating for a non-police response to homeless individuals and mental health calls since 2020, along with four other police reform goals approved by city council that year.

The pilot program would be separate from a planned program for a non-police mental health response.

"I'm really asking people … to reimagine what does public safety look like in our 21st century," Cooper told The Oklahoman.

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Though the city council deferred the request for two weeks June 21, councilors unanimously approved it Tuesday with no discussion. Councilmembers Barbara Young, Ward 3, and Mark Stonecipher, Ward 8, were absent from the meeting.

An Oklahoma City police car is used to block traffic Jan. 17 for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade in downtown Oklahoma City.
An Oklahoma City police car is used to block traffic Jan. 17 for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade in downtown Oklahoma City.

Young said at the June 21 city council meeting that she wasn't sure if she could support something that would send non-police officers to "a situation where a trained officer hasn't evaluated it for safety first." Young declined a request for an interview after that meeting.

Councilman Bradley Carter, Ward 1, declined to comment on passing the request for proposal Tuesday. Councilmembers Todd Stone, Ward 4; David Greenwell, Ward 5; and Nikki Nice, Ward 7, did not respond to The Oklahoman's request for comment Tuesday.

What to know about the non-police response team in OKC

Proposals can be submitted starting Wednesday, and are due by 4 p.m. July 27.

The finalization of contract terms will tentatively take place Aug. 17, and the city council could vote to approve the agreement Aug. 30. The contract will be effective as soon as it is approved by city council, according to the request for proposal.

City Manager Craig Freeman said the annual contract likely would be renewed at least once for a two-year pilot program. The contract could be extended up to four times.

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A person sleeps June 28 in a doorway along Robinson Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City.
A person sleeps June 28 in a doorway along Robinson Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City.

In addition to responding to "low-risk" 911 calls, team members would also "provide proactive outreach to people experiencing homelessness," the request for proposal states.

"People that are experiencing homelessness … have usually had a lot of trauma," Cates said. "And so it takes a lot of intentional work to build trust in order for a staff member to ask someone who's living in a crisis situation to trust them to do a task as maybe seemingly easy as getting on a bus and going to an agency. That can feel scary."

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The official seal of Oklahoma City is shown stitched into the patch of a police officer's uniform during a May 25 meeting.
The official seal of Oklahoma City is shown stitched into the patch of a police officer's uniform during a May 25 meeting.

When and how might teams be dispatched?

The program would coordinate with the police department and 911 dispatchers.

Freeman said he expects this pilot to be a learning process for police, dispatchers and the outreach team.

"We'll have to learn along the way where we feel comfortable not having police there, just from a safety perspective," Freeman said.

Though at least one city councilor, Young, is wary of sending non-police responders out on their own, Cooper told The Oklahoman he is opposed to a "co-response model" for both the homeless and mental health alternative response teams.

"Just the (police) uniform, just the red and blue (lights) can signify to them, 'Crisis, something's wrong,'" Cooper said. "And that's the last thing you want to communicate."

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC requesting non-police response and outreach team for homeless