The second candle on the Advent wreath we light this week is the candle of peace.
One of the most hopeful peace endeavors I’m involved with these days is called the Columbus Safety Collective. This group of folks is committed to the creation of a non-police crisis response unit in Columbus. It calls for nothing less than reimagining public safety, but at its core is a fairly simple idea.
As calls come into the 911 call center they get coded as to the nature of the crisis. For example: Disturbance/Mental, Domestic Dispute, Check on Well-Being, Intoxicated Person, etc. Under the hoped for model, calls that do not involve violence are routed to the non-police crisis response unit, and a team of a counselor, firefighter trained in harm reduction, and possibly a social worker, are dispatched to the scene. They carry no firearms. These responders are also trained in Unconditional Positive Regard, which approaches each person with the belief that this person holds the most expertise regarding their own needs, listening for clues in how they communicate regarding what those needs may be. This training is in contrast to police training of looking for threats and responding accordingly.
More than just an idea, this model has long proved successful in the city of Eugene, Oregon through their now much-praised CAHOOTS program. Similar programs exist in Denver, Austin, and Portland and are being piloted this year in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Although our city has recently increased financial support for Mobile Crisis Units, these teams still include a police officer. While making important steps in the right direction, they do not meet the criteria the Columbus Safety Collective is working toward.
This morning I was on a Zoom call with City Council President Shannon Hardin who continues to express his strong support for the creation of a non-police crisis response unit and recognizes that we have a ways to go to implement it. The Columbus Safety Collective is looking to 2022 to be a big year to publicize and gain wider support, with the goal of having a pilot program included in the 2023 city budget. And roll out an online presence which does not yet exist.
The creation of well-trained teams to respond peacefully to crises fits solidly into our peace theology. These are akin to domestic Christian Peacemaker Teams. People of faith ought to enthusiastically cheer this on, pray for its implementation, and do whatever might be asked of us to help it take shape.
During a week in which the US House of Representatives, which has trouble doing anything together, overwhelming passed a bipartisan $768 billion defense spending bill, we are reminded again that one of our biggest obstacles is simply a lack of imagination in how we approach safety and security.
One of the gifts of Advent is that it brings us back to the scale of households and hearts. We live with attentiveness and expectation for the re-birth of peace within and among us. We join angels, shepherds, and animals in welcoming its surprise, and giving ourselves in service to it.