The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is answering calls to "defund the police" by creating a new public safety department that will send unarmed social workers instead of police officers in response to some 911 calls.
On Monday, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (D) said his administration would form a new city department, Albuquerque Community Safety, whose personnel would respond to some emergency calls.
Albuquerque Community Safety officials will respond to calls of inebriation, homelessness, addiction and mental health. According to Keller's office, the department will be made up of social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, violence prevention and diversion program experts.
Officials hope the new department will keep such calls from escalating into violence and will allow police officers to re-focus their efforts to combating and investigating violent crime.
"We want to send the right resource to the right call," Keller said in a statement. "Especially where a social worker or trained professional can connect people with the services they need, instead of simply taking folks to jail or the hospital, which have been the only choices until now."
According to The Washington Post, experts believe that the Albuquerque Community Safety department may be the first of its kind. Though calls to defund police departments have strengthened following the death of George Floyd in May, Keller says the city has been working for two years on to change the way Albuquerque handles some emergency calls.
Activists who are calling for cities to defund police departments say that money would be better spent on community outreach. They also say that sending armed police into some emergency situations can escalate situations and lead to violence, especially against racial minorities and people of color.
In recent weeks, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in dozens of major cities, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd died in police custody after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy tobacco while intoxicated. After handcuffing Floyd, bystander video shows a police officer, later identified as Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers face charges in connection with Floyd's death.