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LA Times looks to Northwest cities to reimagine law enforcement

By RICHARD READ

SEATTLE BUREAU CHIEF
Los Angeles Times

JUNE 12, 2020

“Across the nation, political leaders are struggling to strike a balance between righting injustices in ways that might mollify those protesting racism and brutality while at the same time maintaining public safety. Some of the more original experiments in reimagining policing are unfolding in the Pacific Northwest…teams in Eugene handled 18% of the 133,000 calls to 911 last year, requesting police backup only 150 times, said Chris Hecht, executive coordinator of White Bird Clinic, which runs the operation called Cahoots. The program, short for Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, operated on a $2-million budget last year that he said saved the Eugene-Springfield, Ore., area about $14 million in costs of ambulance transport and emergency room care.

Hecht said that the teams, in place for three decades, can arrive at the scene of a homeless person experiencing a physical or mental health crisis, defuse the situation and prevent harm in ways that police officers are neither trained nor equipped to do.

“The folks we’re working with often have a history of really unfortunate interactions with police, hospitals or other institutions,” Hecht said. “When a couple of people step out of one of our vans wearing jeans and hoodies, just right there we have a leg up on our colleagues in public safety.”

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