Ann Arbor kills Unarmed Response Program before it ever gets off the ground

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The city of Ann Arbor has canceled its Request for Proposal, or RFP, for an unarmed response program. This program would, effectively, have been the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.

According to a social media post shortly before the holidays, Ann Arbor City Council canceled the RFP along with the $3.5 million to be used toward such a program. The unarmed response program was to meet the demands of a policing alternative for mental health and other non-violent calls in the city, which residents have been asking for since ARPA funds were distributed in 2021.

Care-Based Safety, or CBS, stated in its post that City Council had decided to cancel the open request in a closed session on Dec. 18. According to the city’s website, this was a staff-level decision, which does not require a vote from City Council. CBS was the only organization to submit a proposal to the RFP.

“We are devastated for residents of the City of Ann Arbor, who are desperate for this program and now must wait months or potentially years longer,” the CBS post said. “The City Council never saw our proposal before making this decision, and the City staff never asked us a single question or attempted to discuss any concerns about the scope.”

The city had previously spent over $100,000 on public engagements to determine whether the people of Ann Arbor wanted such a program. The advocacy group Coalition for Re-envisioning Our Safety, or CROS, took on a majority of the work of educating Ann Arbor residents. The coalition spent countless hours engaging the community, educating the public about policing, and conducting research on alternative solutions.

“We did our own set of research, we did a survey of existing programs like this around the country to find which features worked and which would be essential to making it successful in Ann Arbor,” said Eastern Michigan University professor and CROS organizer Dr. Kevin Karpiak.

The advocacy group wrote a report on their findings from these public engagements, which was later used by City Administrator Milton Dohoney, Jr., in his own report presented to City Council. As found in both CROS’s work and Dohoney’s report, there was “broad conceptual support from the community for a [unarmed response] program,” to quote the latter.

“A big part of why we have been so successful has been our organizing,” explained CROS organizer Hoai An Pham. “We have had thousands of people send emails, sign petitions, call in [to City Council] every single week connecting unarmed non-police responses to so many other issues in Ann Arbor with very personal, very specific ‘If this had been available to me at this point in my life’ stories.”

The group’s findings were not without institutional support either. Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, although not in support of the resolution, has championed new response approaches—such as, including social workers in police ride-alongs—in the past.

The resolution for the RFP was passed last June. In July, Ann Arbor’s City Council also unanimously passed the Driving Equality Ordinance, which effectively prohibited secondary traffic stops. The ordinance prevents police from pulling over drivers throughout Ann Arbor for having cracked windshields, loud exhaust, tinted windows, cracked tail lamps, having a misplaced registration sticker, or an expired plate less than 60 days out of date.

The driving ordinance was drafted and passed in response to a study conducted by Karpiak’s Southeast Michigan Criminal Justice Policy Research Project, or SMART, program. The study found major racial disparities in who was getting pulled over and why. While the ordinance was in review, a number of citizens showed up at City Council meetings to voice their personal stories of being wrongfully pulled over and searched by police.

The ordinance and the unarmed response program were to be two major steps toward reimagining public safety. Although the City of Ann Arbor proclaims that it still supports such a program, Dohoney has said the amount of time proposed to create such a program was “insufficient” and that Care-Based Safety “disregarded the RFP directive and indicated it would seek volunteers from their response team to go on such calls if they felt safe doing so.”

“Getting an unarmed response program in Washtenaw County is important because the people need it, have been asking for it for years, and now we have the money for it,” Ann Arbor Resident and member of CROS Alex Parks said in a recent interview. “But it’s also important because it’s the first program of its kind in Michigan. In a lot of ways, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County can be leaders in getting these programs off the ground. Other cities are looking toward us and seeing what is possible.”

CROS and CBS—which grew out of CROS to focus on creating the unarmed response program—are asking Ann Arbor residents to get involved again and to show up at the next City Council meeting on Jan. 8 to demand answers.

“Above all, we just want the city and staff to change their minds and undo the cancellation,” Parks explained. “We want the minutes released from the closed session as well. We also want them to open up communications with their only applicant and start the negotiations and process that they were supposed to do with the interviews.”

The closed session on Dec. 18 has led to a lot of confusion over the matter, leaving many residents and activists wondering why the proposal allegedly does not abide by the RFP.

In order to garner more insight and support, CROS and CBS are also urging residents to provide feedback on CBS’s original proposal, which has been made public since being canceled.

Yet the timing here is perhaps of the utmost importance, not only for the work to be done but for why the work may have halted in the first place.

“These ARPA funds are time-bound, and they have to be spent by the end of 2026, and this is a two-year program being proposed,” Parks pointed out. “It’s the residents’ money, and years ago we decided how to spend it, and we prioritized unarmed response. I think it’s of note that all of this is happening over the holidays. Ann Arbor is a college town, and when things happen over break or over the summer, it’s harder to mobilize support when students are away—especially when they are a group that could benefit a lot from this program.”

When asked how people can get involved, Parks noted: “We have email templates people can send to City Council and the City Administrator. They can call in or show up to the City Council meeting on the 8th.”

CBS’s proposal can be read here and feedback can be provided in the Google Form here. A timeline of the events for the RFP can be found here. Ann Arbor’s City Council meetings can be viewed here.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright is an essayist and activist based in Detroit.  He has written and presented on topics such as suicide and mental health, class struggle, gender studies, politics, ideology, and philosophy.