Thanks to Councilor Vanessa Nordyke, last night the Salem City Council approved a motion to have city staff prepare a report about a mobile crisis unit pilot project.
She was happy in a Facebook post. And humble, because the staff report that was approved was written by her.
Here's Nordyke's approved proposal.
The pilot project would be a civilian-led mobile crisis unit similar to CAHOOTS in Eugene to respond to calls for service involving persons experiencing homelessness or behavioral health crisis and would likely be for one year.
Staff is directed to consult with CAHOOTS of Eugene regarding what this pilot project could look like in our city.
Specifics to include in the staff report:
• Identify potential community partners (such as local non-profits, medical service providers, behavior health providers, local governmental entities)
• Identify potential funding sources (such as the $10.5 million grant we recently received from the state of Oregon)
• Identify estimated cost of pilot project (depending type of staff chosen and other factors)
• Identify potential service providers
• Identify who could hire and train mobile crisis unit personnel (The city? A local nonprofit? Someone else?)
• Identify potential types of staff (Peer support specialist, social worker, EMT, QMHP, etc.
• Identify how a civilian-led mobile crisis unit would fit alongside existing public safety programs (such as SPD BHU, Marion County LEAD, etc)
In making this motion, I am specifically directing staff to consult with CAHOOTS of Eugene what this pilot project could look like in our city.
I understand that depending on the type of staff hired, the cost of the pilot project may vary considerably. So in creating the staff report, my expectation is that staff will propose multiple scenarios with their own price tag. For example, I would expect having peer support specialist would be a lot cheaper than having an EMT or a registered nurse on the team.
The United Way submitted a proposal for a pilot project in the budget committee meetings earlier this year. That document estimated the pilot project costing $540,000. The United Way’s proposal may be an appropriate starting point for this proposal.
As I noted in a previous post about the mobile crisis unit pilot project, so far a stumbling block has been the decidedly lukewarm (bordering on cold) response of Police Chief Trevor Womack to this idea, which probably explains why even though the project is part of the City of Salem budget, no progress has made on it until now.
Jim Scheppke spoke about this in a public comment he submitted on Nordyke's motion.
Dear Mayor and City Council
I support the motion for a staff report on a mobile crisis unit pilot project because this will hopefully get this issue off the back burner and back on to the front burner.
I thought when the Budget Committee and the Council voted last year to budget funds in the 2021-22 budget for a mobile crisis unit that the policy was set to pursue this. Since that time nothing has happened. Grant funds that could have been added to City funds have been left on the table. Our police chief has spoken openly in the Salem Statesman Journal about his opposition to mobile response units so I can only take from that that the policy that was adopted by the appropriate policy-makers is being subverted by City staff. That’s not right.
Civilian mobile crisis units are the proven solution to serving people in crisis. They are less expensive and more effective. People in crisis don’t need to be confronted by officers with tasers and guns. We need to learn from the death of Natzeryt Viertel just last year at the hands of the police. How might that have ended differently with trained mental health specialists responding to the call about a suicidal young man? Mr. Viertel might be alive today.
Thanks to Councilor Nordyke for her leadership on this issue and for her persistence in attempting to do the right thing for Salem.
Jim Scheppke, Ward 2
Yes, this is indeed the right thing to do. I looked through some of the other public comments, which all seemed to be in support of the Nordyke motion. They can be read via attachments to the staff report. These caught my eye.
I would like to comment to the Council that I want Salem to have a CAHOOTS-style program. Many times people call 911 because there's no other realistic option to get a rapid response to a crisis... but they don't necessarily want an aggressive man with a gun to come in and start yelling and threatening people with arrest. They can't necessarily afford an ambulance ride or feel like being locked in a psych ward will be beneficial. Given the option, they might have a strong preference between police, fire, ambulance and mental crisis response: they're the ones observing the situation, the dispatcher only has the caller's words to go on.
We have police because the Executive Branch needs a way to physically enforce laws -- usually felonies that are actually arrest-worthy, since traffic, parking, health, labor and other civil penalties are rarely worth a gun on your hip -- by detaining and referring people to prosecution. The idea that police are also dogcatchers and domestic abuse prevention and a force for serving and protecting is mostly PR, and distracts from the very real work of finding and detaining murderers and thieves, or responding to active shootings.
Just as we have firefighters for fire emergencies, ambulances for medical emergencies, and National Guard or FEMA for widespread environmental emergencies, we need mental/social crisis responders who can respond to psychological or small-scale environmental emergencies.
I once watched a crying young child forcibly chased down and ripped from his mother's arms by multiple armed men because Family Court decided that his absentee father was a better provider, despite allegations of abuse. Were guns and physical violence really the best way to accomplish that? It scarred me just seeing it happen, let alone if I were that child being ripped from my only loving parent by the armed government. It seems to me a better system is possible and necessary. The presence of a gun is in itself an escalation of a situation, even if police are supposedly trained in de-escalation.
Some emergencies need response in the form of water, others in the form of morphine, or Humvees, or sometimes even guns. The giant missing gap in our system is emergencies that need response in the form of a sympathetic ear and a safe place to stay. It used to be that the town pastor would fill such roles, but with large populations a more formal, coordinated system is needed. Police can try to fill this gap, but it's not actually their core mission, and many police chiefs nationwide have said that their departments are overworked, filling in too many roles outside their training. We wouldn't dream of using the National Guard as long- term hospital staff, so why are we as a society so eager to use police as social workers? A separate, independent, care-oriented department should be on 911 speed dial so that the right response is possible, separate from the Police Chief's responsibility to enforcing laws and prosecuting crim
Will Bradley, District 1
I am writing in support of the motion for a staff report on a mobile crisis unit pilot project. I hope that the outcome of the staff report will result in the creation of a mobile crisis unit support team, similar to Cahoots in Eugene, Oregon.
I lived in Eugene for over 30 years, and saw the good that the Cahoots team accomplished, time and time again. Their teams of medical and behavioral professionals were able to attend to the needs of clients in the community, freeing the Eugene Police Department to deal with other more critical and violent issues. The Cahoots teams had a solid reputation in Eugene, and city officials, as well as law enforcement officials, were gratified that the Cahoots team was on call when needed, year in and year out. Money was saved as were lives.
I don't think you will be disappointed in exploring this issue further. Thank you for considering this agenda item.