Podcast | An Oregon city’s decades-old alternative to police

Cities searching for ways to handle crisis calls without police are reaching out to CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon.

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Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) is a mobile crisis intervention team integrated into the public safety system of the Oregon cities of Eugene and Springfield. (CAHOOTS)

In the past year, as cities have searched for alternatives to police while handling crisis calls, many have arrived in an unlikely place: Eugene, Oregon.

In this episode of This Changes Everything’s focus on efforts to defunding the police, host Sara Bernard heads to Eugene for a virtual ride along with CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets), an inventive and unique effort to respond to crisis calls with social workers instead of police. 

Subscribe to This Changes Everything on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or Podbean.

In the calls to defund police and invest in alternatives, CAHOOTS has become the model. We get the real story about how it works and what problems it faces and consider the question: Is the program scalable from a small city like Eugene to a bigger metropolis like Seattle?

In this six-part podcast, available now in its entirety, Bernard and reporter David Kroman take a close look at the challenges of policing today and explore whether it’s even possible to downsize the police force and create a new public safety regime that is more equitable and safe.

Keep listening:

Episode 1: How reform gave way to ‘Defund the Police’ in Seattle

Episode 2: Seattle police, social workers and mental health crisis calls

Episode 3: When police response to a crisis call goes wrong

Episode 5: Defund, then what? Seattle activists’ ideas for police dollars

Episode 6: When defunding the police meets Seattle’s political reality


Transcripts for This Changes Everything are the product of a third-party service. The audio stands as the official record for the reporting in this series.

Anonymous speaker: [00:00:00] This episode of This Changes Everything is presented by the Crosscut festival, may 3rd through the 8th, online and in Seattle

Dispatch: [00:00:11] Four-John-seven-nine, copy and route? Four-John-seven-nine, clear UTL.

Sara Bernard: [00:00:21] This is Dandy.

Alese Colehour: [00:00:22] My name is Alese Colehour. I go by Dandy. I'm a crisis counselor with CAHOOTS.

Sara Bernard: [00:00:29] CAHOOTS stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets. It's a program run out of the White Bird Clinic, a nonprofit health service based in Eugene, Oregon.

And CAHOOTS is one of the few long-standing independent crisis response operations in the whole country that isn't police.

Alese Colehour: [00:00:52] We're a really like a multi-tool of public safety.

Tim Black: [00:00:55] We handle the majority of the mental health crisis calls that are coming through. That could be suicidal ideation. Could be, you know, really profound, crippling anxiety, you know, depression.

Sara Bernard: [00:01:06] And this is Tim.

Tim Black: [00:01:07] My name's Tim Black. I head up our consulting and outreach for CAHOOTS and White Bird Clinic.

Sara Bernard: [00:01:12] In Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, CAHOOTS staffers are the people who respond to those so-called crisis calls, the ones we were talking about in the last couple episodes with Crosscut staff reporter David Kroman

David Kroman: [00:01:22] Somebody is in a really bad way.

Sara Bernard: [00:01:24] Emergencies that in other places, police officers would usually respond to. Crises relating to mental health or the complications of poverty, nothing criminal.

Alese Colehour: [00:01:33] Yeah, suicide's a big one for us.

Tim Black: [00:01:35] Acute symptoms related maybe to somebody who is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia.

Alese Colehour: [00:01:40] We kind of have a reputation for being a service for the homeless, because that's what people see us do out, they see us downtown scooping someone off the sidewalk that's drunk and needs to go to the sobering house.

Tim Black: [00:01:53] We respond to issues related to addiction, helping folks get connected to detox and sobering.

Alese Colehour: [00:01:58] But a lot of our calls are house calls. We're going to people's houses. We're going to family conflict. We're doing welfare checks. You know, someone hasn't heard from grandma in a week or two or people call for themselves. They're just really upset. Maybe they're having a panic attack and they want someone to talk to. Or maybe they need to go to the hospital, but they aren't sure if they are safe to drive or take the bus and we can offer them a ride.

Tim Black: [00:02:29] We also do a lot of non-emergency medical care first aid, you know, just kind of checking on folks.

Alese Colehour: [00:02:35] Yeah. Response to somebody making a Facebook post and someone being worried about them.

Tim Black: [00:02:43] Really, if there's, if there's not a crime, you know, actively being committed, nothing's on fire and there's not a heart attack. there's a good chance that dispatch is really going to try and find a way to justify sending CAHOOTS into that situation.

Sara Bernard: [00:02:57] The organization does operate in partnership with police. CAHOOTS is built into the local 911 dispatch system and calls are triaged. So CAHOOTS can answer the calls that are appropriate for them.

Alese Colehour: [00:03:16] Are we looking for a needle here? Is that what we're doing? We are diverting from our counseling call to assist patrol at the Dairy Mart.

Sara Bernard: [00:03:24] There's always one medic, like a nurse or an EMT, and one counselor. The sound you're hearing, Dandy recorded from a recent shift with a colleague EMT Dan Felts. They ride around, two at a time in a big white van and no one is armed. And so the stuff that the country is talking about more and more right now, about police, about what police do and whether they should be doing it it's something CAHOOTS staffers have been talking about for years. Decades, actually.

Alese Colehour: [00:03:51] I think that police are not well-trained necessarily to deal with mental health crises and that's not their job, frankly. Like, their job is law enforcement and things that people call the police for are not always legal matters.

Oftentimes they're civil matters and police will come out to some, you know, intense family scene and the family is like, we need help. And the police officers are like, well, sorry, there's no criminal act here. We can't, we can't do anything for you. And so, you know, family conflict, family disputes are something we do a lot of too.

And being able to support people, offer mediation on the scene, offer a container for people to process difficult emotions.

Tim Black: [00:04:40] I really still struggled to answer fully why it is that officers, you know, police are the default resource that we're sending out for these situations where there's not a crime being committed and there's not a need for enforcement.

Our underlying philosophy is that when you're in a crisis, you don't deserve to have police show up. rIght? We want to send the right resources to the right situations, and that means that we shouldn't be sending enforcement in when what you need is resolution. You know, we don't, you don't take a hammer to go wash the dishes.

And so what we're talking about is, is, you know, leaving a hammer in the toolbox and grabbing a sponge and some soap because that's what you really need in that moment.

Sara Bernard: [00:05:30] I'm Sara Bernard, and this is This Changes Everything, a podcast from Crosscut about the new normal and part of that new normal, seriously, is the interest in CAHOOTS. The small program in a mid-sized college town on the West Coast has now got the attention of cities across North America, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Iowa City, to Evanston, Illinois, to Victoria, BC to Toronto, and maybe not too surprisingly, Seattle.

Andrew Lewis: [00:05:55] So that's why today I'm announcing that I'm going to be putting forward a proviso on our summer budget requesting that the executive develop and quickly scale up a Seattle/King County version of Eugene, Oregon's program Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets, or CAHOOTS.

Sara Bernard: [00:06:11] Since the death of George Floyd and this fresh debate over the role of police, there's been so much attention on CAHOOTS, which can feel strange, not least to the staff who run the program.

Tim Black: [00:06:20] And I think the first couple of weeks we were getting a hundred emails a week just, you know, from different communities across North America, asking about this.

Sara Bernard: [00:06:27] But the truth is, it is one of the very few scaled up alternatives to police out there for first response. And it's been around for so long that often if you find any other program like it, like for instance, the one that recently popped up in Denver, that program was usually inspired and informed and sometimes even trained by CAHOOTS.

So, CAHOOTS represents for a lot of people right now, a really concrete way to think differently about public safety, a way to actually avoid defaulting to police for all kinds of social issues, the way to help people to avoid bad outcomes, to save money, even.

But, of course, this one little piece in the puzzle can't solve everything. Stay with us.

So, Tim told me a little bit about how it all started.

Tim Black: [00:07:15] Eugene is a, it's a liberal college town, right? You know, we're on the I-5 corridor, straight shot from the Bay Area up to Canada. And in the '70s, in the late '60s, even, we were experiencing a lot of the same issues that larger communities like L.A., San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, we're all seeing that Summer of Love, right? That counterculture movement...

David Smith: [00:07:36] some groove and have a beautiful time together. And that is only the beginning.

Tim Black: [00:07:40] ... was really hitting Eugene hard. And that meant that, you know, alongside that, that kind of cultural revolution, there were also, you know, an increase in the communities related to mental health, poverty and addiction.

You had a stigmatized or discriminated against population because you didn't like how they look. You didn't like what they did. You didn't like that they were taking drugs. And our founders were really trying to figure out, you know, what are some other models? What are some other communities doing to really respond in a better way?

David Smith: [00:08:08] And I saw a lot of potential with what was happening down in San Francisco with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. That's when I first said health care is a right, not a privilege. May, 1967, that became the founding slogan of the Haight-Ashbury free clinic.

Sara Bernard: [00:08:22] This, by the way, is Dr. David Smith, founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, speaking as part of a documentary made for UCF.

Tim Black: [00:08:29] You know, our founders went down and spent some time with Dr. Smith, you know, really, really learned the ins and outs of that approach. You know, why the free clinic was, you know, was operating the way they were and how that model could really be effective.

Sara Bernard: [00:08:42] And the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic inspired the creation of hundreds of other clinics like it around the country, including White Bird in Eugene.

Tim Black: [00:08:48] Coming back up to Eugene, we chose to operate a crisis line in addition to that walk-in facility where folks could go. And that, that phone number that folks were calling in 1970, that's the same phone number that you call today to talk to White Bird Crisis. Uh, you know, we haven't, we haven't stopped answering the crisis line in 50 years.

Sara Bernard: [00:09:06] In other words, Tim says, even though CAHOOTS has officially been around since 1989, it has a much longer history than that.

Tim Black: [00:09:13] As soon as that phone started ringing, we were hearing about these situations going on in the community, you know, crises that folks were experiencing, in which there were barriers to them being the one to talk to us on the phone or, you know, crises that were preventing them from actually coming into our facility to receive services. And there is this profound need really early on for us to have some sort of community-based crisis response and, you know, kind of using the vernacular of the time, if you were experiencing such a profound bummer, you know that you couldn't use the phone or make it into the clinic, you deserve to have somebody who could come and meet you where you're at.

And so White Bird Clinic started to operate what we call the Bummer Squad. It was a group of volunteers using personal vehicles, handful of first aid supplies in a brown paper bag in their trunk. And they would go out and talk to folks, you know, literally meeting them where they were at, out in the community.

And while we were really building up what the Bummer Squad looked like, White Bird Clinic was also really kind of building out its services and really extending its reach in the community. It had become a destination for law enforcement to bring folks when they're in crisis, so, you know, so we're really kind of tinkering with mobile crisis models that integrated healthcare approach through the Bummer Squad at the same time that public safety was really seeing White Bird Clinic as a viable partner in community policing initiatives. When some grant funding became available in the late '80s, it was a natural fit for Eugene Police Department to say, "Hey, White Bird Clinic. Let's talk about how we can work together."

Um, you know, it was that partnership that we were able to form with the police department that allowed us on the 4th of July in '89 to go out in a retired ambulance with the White Bird Clinic logo on it and a couple of just old beat up police radios to receive dispatch calls.

We started off going -- what was it? -- 4 p.m. to midnight, five days a week. And now we're, you know, this behemoth serving the Eugene-Springfield Metro Area with 60 service hours per day.

Sara Bernard: [00:11:07] And they're doing a lot. White Bird Clinic says that in 2019 CAHOOTS diverted 17% of 911 calls away from police. And out of those roughly 24,000 calls, staffers radioed for police backup just 250 times. That's about 1% of the time. But, and this is a big but, CAHOOTS is not taking calls where there's a weapon present. They're also not taking life-threatening emergency calls, the ones that need a medical response in the next few minutes.

Alese Colehour: [00:11:34] We respond as best we can within an hour or so we say. Obviously, we like to be able to get there as soon as possible, but sometimes we get backed up, we have several calls holding and we aren't able to respond as fast as we would like to.

Sara Bernard: [00:11:50] So far about half of CAHOOTS budget comes through the city of Eugene's police department. The rest in grants and donations. The program is estimated to save the region some $8 million in police costs and $14 million in ambulance and emergency room costs every year.

Still, one of those reasons that it saves money could be that CAHOOTS staffers are not paid nearly so well as police. A starting hourly wage for a police officer in Eugene is at least 30% more than a CAHOOTS staffer.

Alese Colehour: [00:12:18] Employee retention is another challenge. A lot of the media recently has been kind of touting us as a cheap alternative to the police, as a cost saving measure. But all of the employees are like, "But we're really underpaid and we're having trouble with retention because we're not able to be paid." This isn't a career job and we don't have full benefits. And, like, there's so much more you could do to treat the staff, the line staff better.

Sara Bernard: [00:12:49] It is possible this could change as the program expands amid all this new attention. But who knows?

It's kind of a bigger issue in general, the fact that people who do social work are often paid way less than other kinds of public servants. Daniel Malone, executive director of DESC in Seattle, who you heard from in the last couple of episodes, really echoes Dandy on this. He says one of the biggest barriers he sees to creating something like CAHOOTS in Seattle is just getting enough qualified people on board to be able to be a scaled-up first response program.

Daniel Malone: [00:13:21] So there is right now a huge mismatch between the way social workers are compensated for their jobs, for doing their jobs and other people doing public service work. Teachers and firefighters and cops are much better compensated and can, you know, kind of live regular middle-class lives on the wages and benefits that they get. And social workers are nowhere close to that. In order to ensure that enough people will choose that kind of work and be able to stay in that kind of work as their lives go on and their, you know, personal situations produce new demands on them financially. Um, we need to think of those kinds of positions like we think of some of these other folks that have an orientation toward public service.

Sara Bernard: [00:14:33] The rainy night that Dandy recorded bits of a 12 hour shift, EMT Dan Felts pointed out that, yeah, this is a pretty unique and important service to provide people.

Dan Felts: [00:14:42] That is one thing I do like absolutely love, love, love, love about my job is that we have eliminated barriers to mental health care and, you know, it can be the most, the darkest, crappiest, cruddiest, saddest, most tragic night of your life and you can get a counselor and a medic to show up for free and witness and listen.

Sara Bernard: [00:15:11] It is crisis response, but CAHOOTS staff tend to take time with each call.

Alese Colehour: [00:15:15] Police are often in a hurry to get to the next call and we like to take our time with our clients, make sure they get the time that they need. And then the other thing we bring to a scene is deescalation training. and that includes emotional validation, validating what someone's experiencing, not trying to immediately fix a problem.

Sara Bernard: [00:15:40] They're not cops, they don't look like cops.

Tim Black: [00:15:42] When CAHOOTS teams are arriving on scene, we're not coming with a badge and a gun, handcuffs and a taser, right? You know, we are unarmed civilian first responders.

Alese Colehour: [00:15:50] Our body language is different. We're able to kneel down in what we call the empathy squat. Uh, police are required to stand at the ready, that's part of their training.

Sara Bernard: [00:16:02] And they don't have the same authority as cops or the same obligations.

Tim Black: [00:16:07] Our program is voluntary.

Alese Colehour: [00:16:08] You know, we offer people transport, so we don't force anybody

Sara Bernard: [00:16:12] That helps build trust. It also kind of inherently helps deescalate things.

Alese Colehour: [00:16:17] Sometimes when we get on the scene and someone tells us, "Go away, I don't want to talk," us walking away and not trying to interrogate them allows them to have trust with us for next time, you know, because they know that they have the power to disregard us if they don't want to talk to us.

Tim Black: [00:16:35] I can think of a few different situations where that physical aggression we're starting to see went away. And when he said, "Okay, you know, all right, we hear ya. I'm going to give you a bottle of water here on the curb. If you want it, great. You know, but you know, we'll see you later. I hope you give us a call the next time you need us," you know. And it was that like recognition that they had autonomy, you know, almost really kind of granting that person that opportunity to really be a self-advocate, even if it's just to say no, that can be really empowering.

Sara Bernard: [00:17:04] Of course, as certified crisis responders, CAHOOTS staff do sometimes have some clear responsibilities, such as getting someone to the hospital If they're in immediate danger.

Alese Colehour: [00:17:13] There are situations where I have a professional and a legal liability to get someone to the hospital, whether or not they want to go. And so those are the hard calls for me, where I have to call for police to, to kind of pry someone into making that decision. And I always give them a warning.

You know, I always say like, "If you don't come with me, I need to call for backup, because I've seen enough concerning evidence that makes me think, you know, you need to go somewhere and get professional help right now." And those are really hard, but when, you know ... I remember one specific story that I had to call police for backup and felt so bad about it. But later on, I ran into that, that woman and she thanked me, you know? She recognized me on the street and she was like, "I'm doing so much better now. And I'm so grateful that you guys helped me out."

Sara Bernard: [00:18:22] We'll be right back.

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Okay. Back to the show.

Sara Bernard: [00:19:50] So a lot of people wonder how this can work out so well. Like, say, anyone who thinks about that time in 2005 in Kitsap County when a social worker was stabbed by someone in mental health crisis.

David Kroman: [00:20:00] A social worker went into an apartment for somebody going through a crisis and the person ended up stabbing that social worker.

Sara Bernard: [00:20:10] How is it that CAHOOTS staff can go into these uncertain situations and be so certain that they'll be okay.

Tim Black: [00:20:15] I hear a lot of, you know, a lot of that othering and a lot of that perception of danger, you know, and this fear that if we send somebody who's not the police into these situations that they're just going to be, you know, killed and injured. It seems like every other city we talk to, they would want to know how many of our staff have been seriously hurt and they're astonished when we tell them that we've never had somebody seriously injured as a result of patient contact.

I was able to panel with Joe Smarro from the San Antonio police department. And, you know, we were both asked that question around, how do you address safety with this response?

And he's a cop, right? He works for a mental health unit. He's got that HBO documentary.

Joe Smarro: [00:20:55] No one calls us to give us good news. They call us because something bad is happening and so they're in a crisis.

Tim Black: [00:21:01] And he even pointed out, he said, you know, his response to officers is how often have you been shot and stabbed when you've gone out on a mental health call? And when they say, "Well, it's never happened." He said, "Okay. So why do you think it's going to happen if you send somebody different in?"

Alese Colehour: [00:21:12] And so if someone is actively in danger or attacking us, we can call for backup and police will be there very fast. And it's very, very rare because we don't come in with a gun or that presumption of being able to take someone's power away.

Police are trained for encountering violence because people react strongly to that. So for us, it's really rare that we feel scared or endangered. And so we don't, we don't need to carry a weapon for self defense.

Tim Black: [00:21:49] In the situations where, you know, I personally felt that that lack of safety or was really worried, those were generally situations where I wasn't paying attention to the full details, right? That I wasn't maintaining the situational awareness that I really should have had. Maybe I was doing something that was informing, you know, a patient's perception that they didn't have the avenue to exit.

One situation that I can think of, I was blocking the doorway and the patient became escalated. And in reflection on that moment, they felt trapped in that room because I was an obstacle between them and the door, you know? I'm not tall, but I'm male, you know, I have a beard and that can be triggering for some folks.

And so, when we take that moment to really recognize the potential triggers and how our non-verbal interactions can really inform that sense of safety, we're able to really diffuse those situations.

Alese Colehour: [00:22:46] We're trained to watch for posturing. Most people will posture before they get aggressive. They'll give you a warning. Like, I don't want to talk to you. I don't want you near me, get out of my space. And we respond to that.

Sara Bernard: [00:23:00] One key factor here, of course, is effective triage. CAHOOTS is not getting sent to the acute situations that police officers with guns are sent to.

Tim Black: [00:23:08] What, what CAHOOTS is able to do falls a lot more on the side of prevention where, you know, because we can respond to situations as they're emerging, before they've really hit a 10 out of 10. We're coming in when it's a four or five out of 10, right?

Sara Bernard: [00:23:22] But staffers will also say that the hybrid model where mental health professionals are sent out with police, as it happens right now in Seattle, sometimes, has its own limitations.

Tim Black: [00:23:31] You know, we have heard anecdotally at times that those coresponse programs end up with social workers who have a bias in favor of law enforcement. You know, that because inherently you're working with officers day-in and day-out, you gotta be able to sit in a patrol car with them for your whole shift. You know, it's logical to assume that in order to get through your day, that you're gonna start to develop some bias there.

You know, we also need to recognize that if you are a member of a community who's experienced adversity with law enforcement, how open are you going to be with that social worker? If that police officer is sitting in your living room with them, or if, you know, if you watch that social worker in plain clothes, get out of that marked police car, we're still asking police on some level to be involved in these situations that they don't need to be in the middle of.

Sara Bernard: [00:24:27] Tim and Dandy might make this work sound easy. It's not easy by any means.

Alese Colehour: [00:24:31] There's certain things I'll never forget. Like, you can't unsee things and you can't unhear things, and so there's definitely some secondary trauma that we all deal with.

Dan Felts: [00:24:47] I don't know, speaking for myself, and also I think the majority of people on the CAHOOTS team, we ended up here one way or another to work through our own trauma.

Alese Colehour: [00:24:58] My coworkers that cope the best all have really significant social support, like outside of the workplace. I think that's really, really important. And one of the saddest parts for me of my job is seeing how many people don't have that, are lonely, don't have the resilience to bounce back after something bad happens.

Yeah. And they say, when we're training, one of the first things they say is, "Whatever dark things in your past, whatever trauma you have, its going to walk through that door. You know, it's going to hit you real hard when you first start doing this work."

My dear friend committed suicide in 2014 and it had a really big impact on my life.

Tim Black: [00:25:51] I've had a few family members that have been impacted by addiction and mental health, and you know, it always kind of seemed like this thing that wasn't talked about, there was a lot of, kind of tucking it under the rug, right? And I also remember really kind of being disappointed that there weren't opportunities for us to talk about how we were feeling or about how those family members were impacting us. You know, I think that I saw the impacts of avoiding those topics.

So I think maybe it's that, that experience of seeing my family members, you know, the death of a cousin that really, you know, gave me this, maybe the kick in the pants that I needed to, you know, to kind of move from that maybe slightly more comfortable space of working in shelters and really get out into the middle of the suffering and get out into the middle of the systems change that you know, that CAHOOTS really represents.

Sara Bernard: [00:26:56] Still, it's not a cure-all. For all the constant and kind of overwhelming attention on CAHOOTS right now, Tim and Dandy say expectations are a little high.

Tim Black: [00:27:04] There's this really big assumption, even here in Eugene and Springfield, that just because CAHOOTS has shown up that things are going to be resolved.

Dan Felts: [00:27:13] I think that we are not equipped to handle the number of shelter crises calls that we get, because we don't have shelters to direct people to. All the local shelters are full, wait-lists for supportive housing are anywhere from three months to three years long. Yeah. It oftentimes feels like all we do is tell someone, "Sorry and, yeah, this sucks. But, you know, here's a tampon, some food and good luck.

Tim Black: [00:27:52] You know, all these other cities are really looking to CAHOOTS right now as this bandaid, right? Because they want to have that thing that looks good and says, "Look, you know, you police aren't responding to these situations," but we're still going to end up really being a part of that same machine of oppression by cycling folks through criminal legal involvement, taking them to the emergency room for medical bills they can't afford if there aren't other resources to get folks connected to, right? You know, I mentioned earlier that we're responding to crises because needs have gone unmet and to really be able to address those crises. there needs to be resources in the community to address those needs.

Sara Bernard: [00:28:26] Ina lot of places, like Seattle, like Eugene, there are those resources. It's just, those unmet needs are so vast.

Dan Felts: [00:28:41] You know, by the time we end up on some of these calls, it just feels like it's way too little, too late. And as we talk about and think about things like defunding the police, I think the best way to think about it is, yeah, redistribution and making sure that there are robust social supports throughout the development of new human life. That's really how we make the biggest impact in society and not necessarily responding after someone's gone through life completely undersupported and finds themselves in a moment of crisis.

Daniel Malone: [00:29:30] Of course, what a lot of people, uh, rightly point out, I believe ...

Sara Bernard: [00:29:34] This, again, is Daniel Malone.

Daniel Malone: [00:29:36] ... is that if we treated people better in our society, we'd have a whole lot fewer incidents that, you know, today result in a police call.

Sara Bernard: [00:29:57] Yeah, there are way bigger issues here. Huge, complicated societal problems that police or any kind of crisis responder are not going to be able to clean up. And replicating CAHOOTS everywhere, it doesn't solve racism or police brutality or homelessness or mental illness or trauma. But it is this one tool. this one small tool that represents, if nothing else, our ability to be creative in how we think about the systems around us. Like, soap and a sponge, that works well for this. Let's save the hammer for the situations that need that the most.

Tim Black: [00:30:31] We can train officers all day long, you know, on mental health, on deescalation, but at the end of the day, there's still not going to be the right resource to send into those situations.

You know, we really, for me, what we're looking at here reminds me a lot of the early days of emergency medicine, right? There was a point in time before we had paramedics, you know, before there were EMTs and ambulance companies, you know, and we were obligating police to be the ones to just toss you in the back of their patrol car and haul you off to the hospital. And then all of a sudden, you know, this new industry developed, right? This new branch of public safety was created to respond to physical health needs. And we have this moment now to shift our thinking away from viewing mental health and addiction as a moral issue, recognize the reality that this is public health and take the appropriate steps to address that in the public safety system.

Sara Bernard: [00:31:28] This is the kind of thing that, in a different context, you'll hear advocates for defunding police in Seattle say repeatedly. Often the context there isn't so much mental health and addiction as what they see as the root causes of crime. For example, poverty, a lack of opportunity, structural racism. If we met people's basic needs, they say, we'd need fewer police.

Of course that's way easier said than done, but some people say they know this to be true because they've seen it happen. And to them, having police around doesn't necessarily make them safer.

Dominique Davis: [00:32:06] Public safety ain't really public safety. Public safety is a prison industrial complex that's brought back Jim Crow and slavery, bro.

Sean Goode: [00:32:14] And this is not a solution-based model of public safety.

Dominique Davis: [00:32:19] We've been indoctrinated to believing that all of our protection and community safety only can come from the police.

Sara Bernard: [00:32:30] That's next time on This Changes Everything.

Thanks for listening to This Changes Everything. This episode was reported and produced by me, Sara Bernard, with reporting assistance from David Kroman. The story editor was Donna Blankinship and the executive producer was Mark Baumgarten. Our cover art is by Greg Cohen.

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This Changes Everything is a product of Cascade Public Media.

I'm Sara Bernard. You can listen to all of the episodes in this series right now at crosscut.com or wherever you get your podcasts.

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