Conversation with Tim Black from the White Bird Clinic/CAHOOTS
Northampton Policing Review Commission, 3/10/21 (30 min)
Tim Black is head of consulting and outreach for White Bird Clinic in Eugene, OR, which operates the Mobile Crisis and Medic response program for Eugene-Springfield’s Public Safety System as part of CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets). In this conversation with Northampton’s Policing Review Commission, Tim discusses the history of CAHOOTS’ mobile crisis-response team and how it became such a critical service provider in the region.
This video is an excellent resource for city officials concerned about the challenges of implementing new programs. Topics include: start-up costs, funding sources, how to start small and scale up over time, how to build a relationship with the police so that they trust the team to take responsibility for certain calls, and how the White Bird Clinic operates organizationally. Relevant video runs from the 1 hour mark for about 30 minutes, until Tim Black leaves the meeting.
Behavioral Health Crisis Alternatives: Shifting from Police to Community Responses
Vera Institute of Justice
“Police themselves have been saying for years that they are asked to do too much. Why do we continue to ask them to respond to crisis calls that health professionals could address more safely and effectively?” This report describes trends in crisis response and the importance of community-based solutions. It includes detailed case studies of three highly successful programs: (1) Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS)’ mobile crisis team in Eugene, OR; (2) Crisis Response Unit (CRU) and Familiar Faces peer-outreach program in Olympia, WA; and (3) the 911 diversion program in Phoenix, AZ.
Describes the shortcomings of community policing: “Some communities have introduced crisis response programs designed to address urgent concerns… The resulting programs…often involve ongoing collaboration among police, advocates, and health and social service providers; extensive crisis scenario training for officers that includes de-escalation practice; and diversion from arrest to appropriate services and supports… Unfortunately, many existing programs are hindered by an over-reliance on police, limited community collaboration, and under-investment in community-based resources. Communities must pursue new approaches that minimize trauma and distress, promote dignity and autonomy, and reduce repeat encounters with police for people who experience behavioral health crises. Reducing law enforcement involvement in crisis calls is a critical step toward these goals.”
Further reading: Vera’s literature review that summarizes a variety of police-based and related emergency response models, Crisis Response Services for People with Mental Illnesses or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Review of the Literature on Police-based and Other First Response Models.
The Community Responder Model: How Cities Can Send the Right Responder to Every 911 Call
Center for American Progress
This policy paper caters to municipal officials and “discusses the challenges and opportunities of a Community Responder [civilian crisis response] approach and concludes with recommendations on how to successfully implement Community Responder programs in cities across the country—including the need to gather community input.”
- “…Dispatching armed officers to calls where their presence is unnecessary is more than just an ineffective use of safety resources; it can also create substantially adverse outcomes for communities of color, individuals with behavioral health disorders and disabilities, and other groups who have been disproportionately affected by the American criminal justice system.”
- “To improve outcomes for the community and reduce the need for police response, LEAP and CAP propose that cities establish a new branch of civilian first responders, known as ‘Community Responders.’ …Community Responders would be dispatched in response to two specific categories of calls for service that do not require police response. First, they could be dispatched to lower-risk 911 calls related to mental health, addiction, and homelessness. This report details several existing programs that send non-police responders to handle such issues, including the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon. Second, Community Responders could handle calls unrelated to behavioral health needs, which might be classified as disturbances, suspicious persons, trespassing incidents, noise complaints, other quality-of-life concerns, and lower-risk neighborhood conflicts. These sorts of situations would benefit from the mediation skills and neighborhood experience that credible messengers—a type of outreach worker with a personal history of justice system involvement—already employ in violence prevention initiatives across the country.”
- “Using 911 data from eight cities, this report estimates that between 33 and 68 percent of police calls for service could be handled without sending an armed officer to the scene.”
- Summarizes “significant societal costs” for sending police to low-priority 911 calls: it reduces police ability to respond to high-priority calls; police officers are not hired, nor do they seek out policing as a career, because they of their “skill in managing complex behavioral health needs,” leading to negative outcomes for many common emergencies; “police officers may unintentionally escalate a situation, simply by showing up on the scene,” triggering people who “have experienced negative or traumatic contacts with the justice system.” All these negative effects are exacerbated in interactions with people of color. Consequences of negative interactions with police “can last a lifetime for individuals, their families, and their communities, since even a minor arrest record can create permanent barriers to housing, education, and employment.” (We would add that negative encounters can also lead to family separation if DCF gets involved.)
- Leading departments are already demonstrating that police are not needed to respond to calls—including those for auto accidents without injury as well as minor larceny, theft, and burglary cases—where the primary purpose is to take reports for insurance companies. Law enforcement agencies can also filter out more false alarms and mistaken 911 calls to avoid dispatching officers unnecessarily.
- Even beyond the improved outcomes for residents in distress, existing programs show significant cost savings for cities by reducing police response. “The [Community Responder] model could play an important role in increasing safety, well-being, and trust.”
Existing programs have shown they can both benefit from their independence and still maintain cordial, mutually-beneficial relationships with police departments. Peer leadership andindependence from the police form the basis for building trust and producing better community outcomes.