City Councilor Vanessa Nordyke is pushing for Salem to have a crisis response team similar to the CAHOOTS program that has been successfully used in Eugene since 1989.
Here's a description of CAHOOTS, courtesy of the White Bird Clinic.
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.
In 2017, the most recent year shown on the White Bird Clinic web page, CAHOOTS teams answered 17% of the Eugene Police Department's call volume. Yes, 17%.
That's a big savings, given the much lower cost of CAHOOTS staff compared to police officers. This chart shows that in 2017 CAHOOTS diversions saved the Eugene Police Department $12 million, with the department budget being $51.3 million in that year.
Steve Powers, the City Manager for the City of Salem, is proposing a $50.5 million budget for the police department in FY 2022 -- almost exactly what the Eugene Police Department budget was in 2017.
Eugene is about the same size as Salem. The CAHOOTS budget is about $2.1 million a year.
So it sure seems like one way to pay for a CAHOOTS-style crisis response team here would be to take a couple of million dollars from the Salem Police Department budget.
Even if the initial savings from a Salem crisis response team was only 1/6 of the savings Eugene had in 2017, a Salem CAHOOTS costing $2 million a year would pay for itself.
Unfortunately, so far City Manager Powers isn't putting any money in his proposed budget for a local CAHOOTS. So says a Salem Reporter story, "Salem residents call for a crisis response team in city budget."
As Salem begins putting together its budget, city residents have a clear request: fund a crisis response team.
City leaders have previously voiced support for a local program modeled after Eugene’s CAHOOTS, where a crisis worker and EMT respond to low-level 911 calls for people having mental health crises, rather than police. But there’s no funding for such a program in the draft city budget City Manager Steve Powers presented Wednesday to the city council.
During Wednesday’s Budget Committee Meeting, a couple people testified in support over Zoom, and another 81 wrote in favor of allocating money toward such a program in public testimony. One man even wrote a poem.
However, the City Council has the final say on the City of Salem budget. Hopefully money for a local CAHOOTS program will be in the budget for the next fiscal year.
Since the program would markedly reduce the number of calls Salem police officers would need to respond to, it makes sense to fund a crisis response team out of the Salem Police Department budget.
This is the sort of reimagining police work that needs to happen if police departments are to regain the community trust that's been diminished recently.
Few CAHOOTS calls require an armed police officer. Less than 1% in Eugene (150 out of 24,000, or 0.6%).
Trained mental health workers are going to handle suicidal people and others in crisis much better than police officers. So not only will a Salem CAHOOTS save millions of dollars, it will improve the quality of service to people in distress.