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Better crisis response. Safer communities.

Far too often, police officers are the first responders in our national mental health crisis. They're trained to enforce the law, not provide mental health care to people in crisis.

There's a better way. CAHOOTS. It's a model for crisis response from Eugene that must take hold across the state.

What does it stand for? Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets.

What does it do? Provide an alternative to police responding to all 911 calls.

When someone experiencing houselessness or mental illness is in trouble, shouldn't 911 help people get the immediate resources they need – a trained mental health professional, crisis counselor, or social worker, for example? Sending the police is very often the wrong answer.

Here's how it works: When someone calls 911 with an appropriate emergency, the dispatcher sends a two-person CAHOOTS team 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 team can then address the emergency, deescalate, and connect folks with the right resources to help them.

CAHOOTS has been terrific in Eugene, where the program launched three decades ago. In fact, last year, CAHOOTS teams responded to about 17% of 911 calls, saving the city an estimated $8.5 million.

It's a model of a partnership between police departments and community organizations that could easily do well in so many towns across Oregon. Getting crisis response right is critical; every community should ensure the best possible help for people in dire need.

We're at a moment in history where people are asking for accountability and justice, where police departments have rightly come under scrutiny. Tools like CAHOOTS must be part of the conversation about reforming a broken system and delivering the best crisis care to each and every Oregonian.

As Oregon's Senate Majority Leader, I'll continue working with my colleagues to keep our communities safe and healthy. I'm enthusiastic about the prospect of CAHOOTS-style programs taking hold across Oregon and across the country.


Posted on October 15, 2020.