The foundation of Vera’s crisis response work was a national initiative called “Serving Safely,” designed to improve interactions between police and people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. Serving Safely was supported through a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) from 2017 to 2019. Vera’s partners for Serving Safely included leaders in the fields of policing, mental illness, intellectual/developmental disability, crisis intervention, peer advocacy, emergency medicine, technology development, and prosecution. Serving Safely provided training and technical assistance directly to law enforcement and partnering agencies. Additionally, the initiative developed and disseminated resources to guide the field toward improved responses, including a curriculum for law enforcement executives and a review of the existing research and evidence on different models and approaches for crisis response.

Vera’s current work, funded by the NFL Foundation, aims to advance crisis response approaches that rely less on police and promote equitable access to community-based services and supports. Across the country, communities are reconsidering how their local governments have repeatedly prioritized police investments at the expense of health and social services. These decisions have disproportionately impacted Black communities and other communities of color. Improving and expanding on community-based services, including emergency first responder programs led by behavioral health specialists, can help address the needs of people with behavioral health conditions before they come to the attention of law enforcement. Some communities have already demonstrated that community-based crisis response programs can safely reduce police involvement in crisis response while improving health outcomes for people with behavioral health conditions.

To build on the success of existing and emerging alternative responder programs, Vera examines how communities can develop and implement similar programs and assists community-led efforts to drive change, providing advocates and other interested stakeholders with guidance and resources that can help them advance and shape community-based approaches that shrink policing’s footprint.