The city’s trial budget, presented to the Phoenix mayor and council members March 16, includes a massive, first-of-its-kind program to overhaul interactions between first responders and residents experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis.
Mayor Kate Gallego’s office says that a $15 million investment to augment the Community Advocacy Program (CAP) is part of a $21 million commitment to improving accountability, transparency, responsiveness and trust in public safety.
Once the final budget is approved, the CAP will operate out of the Phoenix Fire Department and will remove primary responsibility for mental health response from Phoenix Police. Gallego’s office says that a program similar to CAP has existed for years at the fire department but was not adequately funded for this kind of program and was staffed largely by volunteers. The expanded CAP, when fully operational, will consist of 19 mobile units: 10 units will be professionally staffed by civilian city employees and will provide crisis response, connection to care and other social services; nine units will involve a public-private partnership with a behavioral health provider to ensure those who suffer with mental and behavioral health conditions receive ongoing case management and counseling services.
“Since coming into this office, I’ve advocated for a fundamental change in our approach to public safety,” said Gallego. “Throughout the nation, and here in Phoenix, a large and increasing percentage of calls are from people who need help and have no idea where to get it, so they call for police. Now, instead of an armed officer, residents will be able to get assistance from a professional who is armed with information and training. We can connect people to the services they need while reducing negative interactions and sometimes deadly consequences.”
The mayor’s office said that since the start of the pandemic one year ago, the city engaged in careful stewardship of its funds to avoid layoffs and keep essential city services operating. That cautious approach has generated a General Fund surplus of $153 million. As a result, in addition to public safety reform, the proposed budget also advances several more of the mayor’s priorities, which include climate change; diversity and equity; COVID-19 resilience and recovery; affordable housing and homelessness; College Depot; and art and historic preservation.
“As I’ve said many times, the pandemic is not over. We still must stay vigilant and make data-driven decisions that protect the health of our community while acknowledging that things are improving,” said Gallego. “I’m so proud of all we’ve been able to accomplish in spite of COVID-19, and I’m hopeful and optimistic about the future. This budget supports my vision for the Phoenix we are building together.”