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'Everything is not for 911': KC's 1st community response, pre-arrest diversion program 'REACH' passes

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Posted at 2:47 PM, Mar 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-31 09:04:25-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Decarcerate KC held a community rally at Kansas City, Missouri, City Hall this week to celebrate the passing of Responding with Empathetic Alternative and Community Health, or REACH, Kansas City’s first community response and pre-arrest diversion program.

It was recommended back in January by the city’s Alternative to Incarceration Commission after more than six months of research and legwork. The commission was created back in the summer of 2023.

$1.26 million will establish a community response team within the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department. Anyone can call 311 and be connected to trained responders for quality of life concerns like mental health, substance use and issues relating to extreme poverty. Community responders will be dispatched and offer de-escalation, transportation and additional connections to resources.

Right now, enough funds have been allotted to hire 12 full-time staff members, including a program director, care navigators and responders.

According to Decarcerate KC, REACH was inspired by similar programs in other cities that have seen success.

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“In Denver since 2020, they’ve actually diverted 8,000 calls that would have ordinarily gone to the police, which not only allows folks to get the quality of life needs on the front end of the cycle, but it actually takes burden away from the police who don’t have to respond to those calls," organizer Dylan Pyles said.

Just last year, Atlanta’s program ended up saving taxpayers almost $200,000.

In addition to the $1.26 million, another $500,000 will be specifically set aside for REACH so that it can connect people to low barrier shelter housing.

We gotta put our money where our mouth is. So now it’s time to walk the walk and talk the talk and start cleaning up our city and making it a healthier community,” said supporter Kevin Morgan, with Lean On Me Ministries.

LaTonia Draffen’s son and grandson are both incarcerated, and years ago, she spent several nights in jail as well. With the passing of REACH, she cannot help but think a program like it would have led to different outcomes for her family.

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“Instead me being out crying out, trying to look for drugs, I could’ve been dialing 311 and talking to somebody and somebody helping me,” Draffen said. “There’s young kids out here that are in juvenile. They need this guidance, they need this love that they are not getting.”

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Regardless of the city’s investment upfront, Draffen encourages all taxpayers to consider the gain.

“It could keep your loved one from being locked up. Not only that, I say it’s better than putting money towards a stadium. I’d rather pay taxes to help our community,” Draffen said.

REACH is officially set to launch in the next few months and by 2024, leaders will have a strong sense of how the first phase of the rollout has been.