Too many people in our community are in crisis.
Stories like one mentioned in Salem Reporter in October — of a man experiencing a multi-day mental-health crisis culminating with him wandering into traffic and almost getting hit by a car — are commonplace. And this isn’t a new problem. An eerily similar thing happened in Salem in November 2017 when a troubled woman in crisis had to be physically restrained from running into traffic.
These kinds of things happen every single day.
We need a community-based public safety system to respond to nonviolent emergencies involving mental illness, homelessness and addiction. We need to try things that make our community safer for everyone. We owe it to our neighbors who are struggling with these issues, to our law enforcement officers, and to everyone in our community.
Marion County has two programs designed to address emergency mental health situations: the Mobile Crisis Response Team and Community Crisis Outreach Services. Both programs utilize law enforcement along with qualified mental health professionals. Both programs have excellent results and should be expanded.
However, not every emergency mental health crisis requires law enforcement. Marion County needs a crisis response team that doesn’t involve police – not as a replacement for the current programs but as a complement.
We know this type of program works. In Lane County, CAHOOTS has a proven track record of success when it comes to non-law enforcement crisis response. That program dispatches a medic and a mental health professional to deal with emergencies that don’t require police involvement. Of the 24,000 calls that CAHOOTS handled in 2019, only 150 required police backup. CAHOOTS reduces the burden on law enforcement in Lane County and saves the city of Eugene an estimated $8.5 million each year in public safety spending.
Vying for its blueprint: Eugene-based CAHOOTS launches mobile crisis response 101 course
This kind of program could save significant money for law enforcement agencies and taxpayers in Marion County. It would allow MCRT and Community Crisis Outreach Services to better address public safety concerns by focusing on the more serious situations where we need law enforcement to protect everyone involved. The money we save could be used to hire additional deputies and improve community policing.
Federal funding is available to pay for this kind of program right now. House Bill 2417, passed by the Oregon Legislature, provides up to $10 million for exactly this purpose. It would cost Marion County residents zero dollars to try something like CAHOOTS.
This kind of program would make life easier for law enforcement. It wouldn’t cost us money. And we know it would work.
I am asking County leadership to cut through the red tape and immediately authorize a program like CAHOOTS in Marion County. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can start doing better and being better.
Spencer Todd is a lawyer from Salem, where he has been practicing as a court-appointed criminal defense attorney for the past eight years. He has announced his candidacy for Marion County district attorney. You may reach him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Guest Opinion: Look to CAHOOTS for mental health response