Police officers simply aren’t equipped with the training to be crisis intervention counselors as well as law enforcement officers.
It’s a point we’ve heard frequently from both advocates of police reform and members of law enforcement communities themselves during the ongoing national conversation about police brutality, defunding police and reimagining local law enforcement. And as cities like Los Angeles start to look at ways to rethink who is responding to certain 911 calls, they’re looking to other cities that have already implemented a version of an unarmed, specially trained crisis response team that can handle certain calls with behavioral or mental health components that a police officer might not be properly trained to handle.
Despite being around for 30 years, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) unit in Oregon’s Eugene-Springfield Metro area has been in the spotlight recently as one model that a number of cities, including Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, are looking at as a successful example. CAHOOTS is overseen by White Bird Clinic in Eugene, which is not directly affiliated with the city or its police department. But if a call comes in to 911 that dispatchers determine doesn’t require an emergency response but does have a behavioral or mental health component, a medic and a crisis worker from CAHOOTS are dispatched as a team instead of police to respond to the situation.
Another city that could serve as a model is Albuquerque, New Mexico, which announced last week that it would be creating its own cabinet-level department of first responders called Albuquerque Community Safety which would consist of crisis intervention, violence prevention, homelessness and mental health experts serving alongside city police and fire/rescue as a third option for dispatchers to call in to respond to 911 calls that are still urgent but may not require a police response. Albuquerque took a step in this direction earlier this year when it announced that its municipal grounds security, not police, would partially take over responding to public inebriation calls.
Today on AirTalk, we’ll look at some of the models that other cities have implemented for responding to non-emergency situations involving homelessness, addiction, or behavioral or mental health components.
Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick, causes reporter for the Register-Guard, the daily newspaper covering the Greater Eugene-Springfield, Oregon region; she has covered the CAHOOTS program and its parent organization, White Bird Clinic; she tweets @TatianaSophiaPT