Volume 94, No. 1, Fall 2021
By Taleed El-Sabawi, Jennifer J. Carroll [PDF]

Too many Black persons and other persons of color are dying at the hands of law enforcement, leading many to call for the defunding of police. These deaths were directly caused by excessive use of force by police officers but were also driven by upstream and institutional factors that include structural racism, institutional bias, and a historic culture of racialized violence. Public outcry against racial inequities has increased as the authority of police departments has expanded to include not only the authority to respond to and investigate criminal activity but also to respond to calls regarding behavioral health issues and houselessness. Defunding police raises questions about how budget cuts should affect the types of services provided by police departments and what new and improved responses may look like. While advocates may have identified model programs that they hope will be the answer to defunding the police, many community organizers lack the legal training necessary to institutionalize their visions in ways that protect against law enforcement co-option. This Article proposes a model act (the Model Behavioral Health Response Team Act) that can be tailored to meet the needs of local and state policymakers endeavoring to create a new institution to replace the police in responding to mental health, substance use, and housing crises. The institution created by this model act is evidence based, person centered, and community driven. It is informed by empirical evidence on crisis response, federal guidelines, and a case study of political activity resulting from the police killing of a Black man amidst a behavioral health crisis in Greensboro, N.C.