Los Angeles announces unarmed alternative to policing

Los Angeles city officials on Monday kicked off a new public safety initiative that introduces an unarmed response alternative to policing. 

Aimed at providing trauma training and services to community intervention workers, the Project TURN initiative (Therapeutic Unarmed Response for Neighborhoods) was introduced by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who chairs the City Council's public safety committee.

"Community-based public safety workers are regularly exposed to high trauma environments and providing comprehensive training and support is an important tenet of how our City will deliver transformative change and strengthen our public safety response and create more equitable investment in a community based public safety model," said Rodriguez. 

The program seeks to help the over 100 community intervention workers in the city with training provided by the Community Based Public Safety Collective, The Reverence Project and the BUILD Program. They will provide therapy and other activities such as yoga, meditation and healing circles.

Rodriguez said that the community intervention workers help prevent retaliatory violence, reducing the need for officers to engage in the neighborhoods. Ideally, the workers find out information from community members, and handle the situation long before police need to arrive.

"That's the whole point, is that we want to avoid the crisis before we're in one," Rodriguez said.

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The effectiveness of Project TURN will in part be determined by how successful the workers continue to be in deescalating situations, according to Rodriguez. 

Bobby Arias, president of San Fernando Valley-based Champions in Service, said that the Los Angeles Police Department is aware of and supports the community intervention strategy. But he said that the workers "can't be perceived by the community as snitches," since they have to work with those in the neighborhood.

"These folks are born and bred in their respective neighborhoods," said Aqeela Sherrills, co-founder of the Community Based Public Safety Collective. "They know the terrain. They know the families ... They'll have more intelligence in terms of what's happening in the street than law enforcement will ever have."

Sherrills said that, at $40,000 a year, the workers are underpaid for a job that involves a lot of risk, and that "mediation requires maintenance."

"This is why it's so important that the practitioners in the neighborhoods are incentivized," Sherills said. "It's very dangerous work."

Funding for Project TURN was requested through a motion by Rodriguez in January 2022.

City News Service contributed to this report.