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January 05, 2022


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I disagree with the characterization as a cage fight, even if it is merely meant tongue in cheek. Chief Womack and I have discussed a number of public safety issues since he joined the city. I look forward to working with him on identifying how a mobile crisis unit can work in our city and and reach those who are not currently being reached, by his own admission in the SJ article.

Interestingly, Chief Womack stated just months ago that he would be in favor of a mobile crisis unit in a May 2021 Salem Reporter article:

“Womack said he would be in favor of a CAHOOTS-style model that had a crisis worker and medic responding to calls for those in mental health crisis rather than police. Womack said he’s not opposed to sharing funding with such a program, (Eugene’s model is funded through the police budget) but wants it to be well designed so that officers don’t end up responding to calls anyway.

“I want to make sure we design this in the right way to where it actually works and that it truly does free us up from those calls so we can move on to other things which are much more important,” he said.”

I am confident we can work together on this.


Vanessa, I too hope you can work with Womack on this. But Womack's most recent comments about a mobile crisis unit in the late December Statesman Journal article are at odds with what he said in May of last year. So I have to believe what he said most recently reflects his current attitude.

Womack wants to add officers to the police department roster. He's trying to expand his empire. OK, that's what leaders of government agencies typically want -- to get more money and power. However, a civilian-led mobile crisis unit is at odds with Womack's goal. This would mean, if the crisis unit were to be as successful as CAHOOTS is in Eugene, that the demand for police calls would markedly lessen.

I admire your optimism about being able to work with Womack. I just haven't seen any sign that Womack is willing to enthusiastically support a mobile crisis unit that isn't under police department control. Maybe, though, he'll come around if your motion at the January 10 city council meeting gets a lot of support from councilors.

Lastly, yes, I did use "cage fight" in a sort of tongue-in-cheek fashion. Writers/bloggers like me rely on how we see things, and relating that seeing as honestly as possible. When I sat down last night to write this post, that's what came to mind. So far you've been frustrated in your efforts to get the mobile crisis unit off the ground. Resistance has come from the Marion County board of commissioners, and others, who believe such units should be an integral part of law enforcement, not civilian-led.

Womack sure seems to be part of that resistance. If you can overcome it, great. But that will take a fight, Which is why I said what I did.

CAHOOTS may be a worthwhile model to experiment with in Salem. However, it is concerning that the most vocal boosters, such as Spencer Todd in his SJ opinion piece, wildly exaggerate CAHOOTS' success. For example, Todd claimed, "Of the 24,000 that CAHOOTS handled in 2019, only 150 required police backup." However, City of Eugene records show that in 2019 there were 311 instances in which CAHOOTS called for Eugene Police Department backup. Analysts were able to isolate 25 instances (8% of backup calls) where the terms “C3” or “CODE 3” were used in the call notes - this would indicate an immediate and emergency police response to the call. Furthermore, the 24,000 number cited by Todd appears to be pulled from thin air. There were actually 13,854 instances where CAHOOTS was the only unit that was both dispatched and arrived on scene. Overall, Eugene estimates that the true divert rate from law enforcement to CAHOOTS falls between approximately 5% - 8%. Many will say that it a rate worth trying to replicate here. But let's at least be honest before we sink millions of dollars into a Salem CAHOOTS. And that is what it would take as evidenced by CAHOOTS' most recent $1.8 million budget request. Spencer Todd's promise that it will be funded by free federal money is naive.



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