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Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish Addresses Calls To Defund Police

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish addressed calls to defund the police Friday by elaborating on the proposal to create a diversion center, where people who might otherwise be sent to jail would instead receive help for mental health or addiction problems.

Earlier this week, the county sent out a request for proposals from potential operators to run the center.

During the county's weekly health briefing, Budish said some who are calling for defunding the police just want to see responsibilities shift from police to social workers or human services professionals, which is exactly what the diversion center would do.

“We've been planning this exact approach already, even before the protests, and without defunding our law enforcement,” he said, referring to recent demonstrations locally and nationally against police brutality.

In the last budget, the county set aside $2.5 million for the diversion program, Budish said. Some of the funds will come from opioid settlement money. The cost of the diversion center did not come from cutting the law enforcement budget.

The diversion center will get people out of the county jail and give them access to treatment and resources like job training, he said.

"Right now, the jails are the biggest mental health and addiction providers, not just in Ohio but everywhere, and that's not where it should be happening,” Budish said.

The county's diversion center proposal covers only the cost of the services and resources offered. Budish said the county is fundraising to cover construction of the brick-and-mortar building.

He hopes to see the program start before the end of 2020.

Budish also announced Friday he's recommending 15 local civic and business leaders for the Cuyahoga County Citizens Advisory Council on Equity. The new members will help make sure county programs are fair and inclusive, he said.

"And if changes are required in the way we do things, I'll ask that they give us specific recommendations,” he said.

The equity council members were due to be appointed in October 2019. The appointees must be confirmed by county council.

Separately, Budish announced the creation of an internal, staff-led group to look at the impact of county services on people of color. The group will be tasked with providing a data-informed approach to county services and will be empowered to make changes to programs if they find negative outcomes.

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