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  Oregon's Police   Trained First Responders  

Story by Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza & Sean McElwee - Story Source
Published on Wednesday March 17, 2021 - 5:45 AM
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A growing trend could change law enforcement and social services as we know them, and it started in Eugene, Oregon. An emergency first responder program, Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, known as CAHOOTS, began more than 30 years ago. The idea is that many emergency calls can be handled by non-law enforcement first responders, as in cases of mental health issues, substance use disorder crises, health and safety check-ins, and the experiences of the unhoused. While armed police often introduce needless violence into these situations, trained responders are better equipped to get people the help that they need.

CAHOOTS has been so successful, the Oregon legislature is on the verge of taking the program state-wide. The relevant bill, which will come through the House Committee on Behavioral Health, had a public hearing on February 24, 2021.

A recent poll by The Appeal and Data for Progress found that a staggering 81 percent of Oregon voters support funding any city or county in Oregon willing to adopt the CAHOOTS model. Just 16 percent of respondents opposed such initiatives—a gap of 65 points. The support is both strong and transpartisan, with 89 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of independents, and 68 percent of Republicans supporting the CAHOOTS model.

And it's not just Oregon. CAHOOTS has inspired national momentum behind similar life-saving emergency response programs. A pilot program modeled after CAHOOTS launched recently in San Francisco, with others planned in Oakland and Portland, Oregon, and hundreds more requests for program details from communities nationwide.

There's also federal interest in creating new methods of responding to public health and safety emergencies. In late February, eight senators, including Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, introduced a bill to help states create CAHOOTS-type programs to dispatch mobile crisis response teams when people are experiencing mental-health or substance-use crises, instead of immediately sending law enforcement.