Eugene, Oregon, announced an innovative policy thirty years ago that gained unusual attention last year. The year 2020 was a time of highly contentious and often racially charged police killings of civilians, sometimes civilians experiencing what was clearly a mental health crisis. The issue Eugene addressed in the late twentieth century, and one that should clearly be addressed in other contexts in this is: can there be some alternative to a police force response to a call about such crises?
The Eugene program is known as “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets,” or CAHOOTS. It employs a staff of unarmed outreach workers and medics. Their training is in de-escalation.
The idea is that if you call the police because a loved one is seeing demons or experiencing a drug overdose, the ideal response is not a uniformed official with a service revolver. If that is the response typical of your community, you will avoid making a call at all, and your loved may go untreated.
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A pilot program modeled in part on Eugene’s CAHOOTS began recently in San Francisco, and another is planned across the bay in Oakland. US Senator Ron Wyden (D- Ore) has introduced the CAHOOTS Act into Congress. This would create an incentive for municipalities around the country that want to experiment with such a model for intervening in addiction and behavioral-health crises