Alternatives to calling the police

Calling the cops often makes situations worse, puts people at risk and leads to violence and incarceration. We can cultivate networks of mutual aid to take care of each other and foster transformative justice. Here’s alternatives: 

-If your neighbor is having a noisy party, go over and talk to them

-Find a restorative justice mediator to resolve conflicts

-Develop a safety plan with your community

-Offer people experiencing domestic violence a place to stay or a ride
-Reach out to community resources like suicide hotlines and safe houses

How to help deescalate someone having a crisis

If you think back to a time when you were really angry and upset, maybe you said or did things you regret, maybe not. What did you need? What did someone do that was helpful? What did someone do that was not helpful? 

When someone is freaking out, the part of the brain responsible for logical thinking isn’t always functioning, while the parts of the brain responsible for emotion and instinct stay turned on. Before someone can make sense of the situation, people need to find their way back to themselves. 

When deescalating a situation, it’s important to use an anti-oppression framework as much as possible and recognize that there are interpersonal and systemic power imbalances based on differences in class, gender, race, physical ability, age, etc. You may be in a better position to de-escalate certain situations, or not, based on your positionality. Healing cannot happen in isolation. It happens in the context of supportive and caring relationships.


• Are you the best person to respond? If you can’t respond, it’s okay — find someone else who can. If you intervene, introduce yourself by telling the person your name, who you are and that you’re there to help. 

• What is the person telling you about their needs through their behavior, words and body language? Ask what they need. Can you meet these needs? If not, what options can you offer? 

• While talking, take an open stance, maintain eye contact, and be aware of the volume and tone of your voice.  Slow down. Repeat yourself.  Keep your voice calm and soft, yet firm and direct. Your voice will have an immediate effect upon the person you are talking to.

• Ask the person to help you understand why they’re upset. Reflect back what they’re saying so they feel heard. Use brief, simple, direct statements. Affirm the person’s right to their feelings. 

• Create rapport that helps them feel like you’re on their team. Respect personal space. 

• Will they sit down with you and talk? Will they walk to somewhere safer with you, away from the conflict? 

• Don’t try to argue against voices or delusions. A person’s perception is their reality. 

• Don’t try to use logic to convince the person they are wrong. Affirm their feelings: “That sounds like it would be disorienting / frustrating / scary / overwhelming.” Narrate what actions you’re taking if you call for help, talk to someone else, or are even reaching into your bag. Be predictable. Avoid getting into a confrontation or triggered by the person’s “negative energy.” 

• Avoid labeling people or causing them to feel guilty.

• Set boundaries for what is and is not appropriate. Keep those boundaries.

• Sometimes humor and redirection work well. 

• Be aware and cautious of how you are affecting the situation. Leave or enlist additional support if a person you are talking to becomes increasingly agitated or behaviorally inappropriate. 

• Check on immediate physical health and safety. An intoxicated person may be physically ill or injured but unaware of it. Offer immediate, concrete help like detox, medical attention, etc.

• You can build rapport by offering water, food, coffee, or cigarettes. 

If Someone is Armed… 
• Identify the exits • Maintain eye contact • Keep your hands visible • Slowly back away 

When possible, debrief with the person after things cool down and a reasonable amount of time has passed.

Written with help from Open Table Nashville, a community group in TN