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For some 911 calls, Dayton mediators are alternative to police. Activists say more could be done.

Two cars with the Dayton crisis mediation logo on the door are parked on the street net to each other.
The Mediation Response Unit specializes in non-violent situations that involve a conflict ranging from family disputes to a neighbor’s dog that has been barking for the past six hours.

When a police officer is not required in a dispute, Dayton’s non-police crisis response team steps in.

Since its inception in May 2022, the Mediation Response Unit has gone on thousands of non-violent, low emergency 911 calls within the city.

The response team grew out of police reformtalks in Dayton following public protests over the 2020 police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The responders are trained in de-escalation, active listening, and mental health first aid.

The team has responded to 5,000 calls to date, with the most frequent being neighborhood disputes and youth cases.

“Whereas police, they're jumping from high, high-acuity call to high-acuity call, we're able to take a little bit more time with folks and kind of address the issue or the cause of the symptoms that they're calling about,said Raven Laoiza Cruz, who is one of seven members of the unit.

Some local activists say the program works, but more could be done to make it more effective. Mary Sue Gmeiner thinks the mediation unit needs more staff.

“The one thing that I thought would be helpful for them would be to add a third unit, and if they added a third unit and staggered some of those hours, they could go to 8 to 10 p.m. as well," Gmeiner said. "Then they could also be there on Saturdays, especially neighborhood conflicts that are more likely to happen in the evenings and weekends.”

Cruz said they are hoping to get more staff and expand the unit’s hours.

“We have a goal of getting to 24/7, but we're not there yet. We absolutely need more funding and support to hire additional people,” Cruz said.

Julio Mateo was part of the police reform talks and said he wants the city to share more data.

“It doesn't report on what the change in interactions between police and public are on the police side,” Mateo said. “So I think it is an important piece to show whether or not it was effective at reducing those interactions or did the, you know, incidents of use of force or something else went down.”

The Mediation Response Unit is just one of over 100 police reform suggestions that came from Dayton residents through the city’s Police Reform Working Groups.

Ngozi Cole is the Business and Economics Reporter for WYSO. She graduated with honors from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York and is a 2022 Pulitzer Center Post-Graduate Reporting Fellow. Ngozi is from Freetown, Sierra Leone.