Around 30 years ago, a town in Oregon retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counselors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that wouldn’t necessarily require police intervention.
Co-authors Tim Black, CAHOOTS Operations Coordinator, and Patrisse Cullors, Artist and Activist, “break down the problems behind the headlines—like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine—so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail.”
31 years ago the City of Eugene, Oregon developed an innovative community-based public safety system to provide mental health first response for crises involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction. White Bird Clinic launched CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) as a community policing initiative in 1989.
The CAHOOTS model has been in the spotlight recently as our nation struggles to reimagine public safety. The program mobilizes two-person teams consisting of a medic (a nurse, paramedic, or EMT) and a crisis worker who has substantial training and experience in the mental health field. The CAHOOTS teams deal with a wide range of mental health-related crises, including conflict resolution, welfare checks, substance abuse, suicide threats, and more, relying on trauma-informed de-escalation and harm reduction techniques. CAHOOTS staff are not law enforcement officers and do not carry weapons; their training and experience are the tools they use to ensure a non-violent resolution of crisis situations. They also handle non-emergent medical issues, avoiding costly ambulance transport and emergency room treatment.
A November 2016 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine estimated that 20% to 50% of fatal encounters with law enforcement involved an individual with a mental illness. The CAHOOTS model demonstrates that these fatal encounters are not inevitable. Last year, out of a total of roughly 24,000 CAHOOTS calls, police backup was requested only 150 times.
The cost savings are considerable. The CAHOOTS program budget is about $2.1 million annually, while the combined annual budgets for the Eugene and Springfield police departments are $90 million. In 2017, the CAHOOTS teams answered 17% of the Eugene Police Department’s overall call volume. The program saves the city of Eugene an estimated $8.5 million in public safety spending annually.
CAHOOTS calls come to Eugene’s 911 system or the police non-emergency number. Dispatchers are trained to recognize non-violent situations with a behavioral health component and route those calls to CAHOOTS. A team will respond, assess the situation and provide immediate stabilization in case of urgent medical need or psychological crisis, assessment, information, referral, advocacy, and, when warranted, transportation to the next step in treatment.
White Bird’s CAHOOTS provides consulting and strategic guidance to communities across the nation that are seeking to replicate CAHOOTS’ model. Contact us if you are interested in our consultation services program.
NPR Morning Edition took a look at effective alternatives to police response that keep people out of jails and emergency rooms. Tim Black from CAHOOTS is featured at about 7:08.
The National, a nightly news program from Canada’s public broadcaster CBC, interviewed Tim Black and Ebony Morgan from CAHOOTS about our alternative model to police intervention for crisis response.
by Rashida Tlaib Apr 23, 2020 in “The Appeal”
What would an Emergency First Responders Corps look like?
“The most important aspect of the Emergency First Responder Corps is that it must be civilian and designed to help people. The idea isn’t novel — it is something neighbors have been doing for centuries, and the time is now to take comprehensive approach to formalizing it to help our most vulnerable communities.
A good model of this exists in Eugene, Oregon, CAHOOTS — Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets — has worked for decades to help people in crisis. They deal with those who are suicidal, houseless, infirm, or just having trouble getting the basics they need to survive. It’s fully integrated into the local service community. And they are effective. In 2018, CAHOOTS responded to 24,000 calls. CAHOOTS and the White Bird Clinic were recently awarded federal funding to expand telemedicine access during the current pandemic.”
The Briefing: a new vision for first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic
CAHOOTS program coordinator Tim Black joined Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and our self-described “biggest fan of CAHOOTS in the Rockies” Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod to discuss the CAHOOTS model and why there is a need for a behavioral health branch of public safety in communities across the nation.
White Bird’s CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program continues to make headlines. CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell correspondent Omar Villafranca went on a ride-along with CAHOOTS to see them at work and learn why the program is being considered by cities across the country.
NBC News featured the team’s approach in their feature “Taking police officers out of mental health-related 911 rescues.”
Denver police officials said they are considering the model as an option to push beyond their existing co-responder program. New York City is looking to the program as “a model for non-police response to non-criminal emergencies.”
Salem nonprofits are looking at the model for mobile crisis response. “CAHOOTS gets 2 percent of the police budget, but with that 2 percent they handle 17 percent of public safety calls,” said Ashley Hamilton, who’s helping spearhead the idea.
Rogue Valley law enforcement, mental health professionals and advocates, elected officials and other concerned community members gathered at the Medford Police Department to hear Tim Black talk via Skype about the program in September. In November, city commissioners are expected to discuss how the program would work in Portland.
The power of White Bird’s CAHOOTS program lies in its community relationships and the ability of first responders to simply ask, ‘How can I support you today?’ White Bird Clinic is proud to be a part of spreading this type of response across Oregon and the rest of the United States. Please consider a donation to help us expand our model.