As the outrage over George Floyd’s murder has spurred nationwide protests this summer and demands for changes to our police and criminal justice systems, the League has been sharing resources and trying to help communities unpack what it means when people talk about “defunding the police.” And in truth, there are a lot of different views on the issue and approaches for making change.
My oldest son goes to school at University of Oregon in Eugene. In my visits there I have come to love the city and its expansive and accessible public transportation network, greenspaces, and unique neighborhoods. Like many college towns it is an eclectic and generally progressive community. But the city has its share of racial tensions, homelessness, and drug addiction issues that challenge traditional public safety approaches.
Over 30 years ago the city created a program that made significant changes to how public safety calls are handled. The Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) provides 24/7 mobile crisis intervention in the region, dispatching two-person teams (comprised of a nurse or EMT and a behavioral health first responder) instead of police to non-violent crises calls. The teams stabilize the situation, do assessments and referrals, and sometimes even transport people to the next step in their needed care. As the article points out, the CAHOOTS program “fielded nearly 25,000 calls in Eugene and the neighboring city of Springfield in 2019. That’s almost a fifth of the Eugene Police Department’s total call volume of about 172,000 people.”
The CAHOOTS program is funded through the city’s police budget, and after three decades is well embedded in the community. In the wake of calls to “defund the police,” the program has been highlighted by many national and regional media outlets as a model and is something Michigan communities could look to in pursuing public safety reforms.