Alameda City Council approves sweeping changes to 911 response

The Alameda City Council has approved sweeping reforms to how the city responds to certain 911 calls, voting to redirect some calls to resources that might not require armed officers.

The changes came Saturday in a special meeting held over Zoom, almost three weeks after 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez died after he was restrained by three Alameda police officers on April 19.

The council and Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft agreed Saturday they must move quickly to implement short-term and long-term changes.

Decided in a vote of 4 to 1, the council is moving forward with plans for the city to design and budget for a pilot program that they want ready by the end of June. The goal is to bring well-trained mental health officers, not armed police. to respond to certain 911 calls, and include a compendium of all mental health resources currently available to the police department.

Additionally, within the next two weeks, the city will take up a review of Alameda Police use-of-force and body camera policies, and offer revisions.

The four-hour-long meeting included time to hear public comment from 38 people, and dozens more were in the queue when public comment ended. Most of the speakers echoed Mario Gonzalez's name, calling for police reform and accountability for the officers involved in Gonzalez's death.

Rebecca Ruiz, a coordinator with the Anti-Police Terror Project and Mental Health First Oakland, said she and others who spoke at the meeting were moved after seeing partial body-camera footage of Gonzalez's death, released by APD on April 27, and felt "really impassioned to get involved, and saying this shouldn't have happened, Mario should still be alive today, and it should never happen to anyone ever again."

Councilmember Tony Daysog said that the council voted to evaluate the issue of police reform on March 16, but didn't move fast enough to implement any changes that could have prevented Gonzalez's death.

"I am saddened by the tragic death of Mr. Gonzalez and I do join our community and our city council in expressing my heartfelt grief over that death," Daysog said.

"We are looking for complete structural transformation," Ruiz said after the meeting. "I'm cautiously optimistic about talks of non-police response. though, we need to continue to put pressure on the mayor to have these response models be truly community-led, autonomous, independent from the police," she added.

Ruiz said that Mental Health First Oakland responds to callers from Alameda too, and is another resource for anyone fearful of calling 911.

"If you or a family member are having a mental health crisis, if you need to talk to someone, you can call us," Ruiz said. The number for Mental Health First Oakland is 510-999-9MH1.