As calls to “defund the police” echo at Black Lives Matter protests, a few communities know what that looks like, as they invest millions of dollars into mental health resources and response teams instead of traditional policing, USA Today reports. These crisis intervention teams typically do not include armed, uniformed officers but feature counselors, social workers and paramedics. The 30-year-old CAHOOTS, or Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, in Eugene, Or., is the model other cities are looking to as they form their own programs. Co-response teams, which pair a cop with a social worker, have grown in popularity, especially in areas crippled by the opioid crisis. As outrage grows over the number of black men who have died in interactions with cops, communities are demanding a system other than traditional policing. Advocates say programs like CAHOOTS offer a better, safer alternative.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed has announced plans for a crisis intervention program similar to CAHOOTS, acknowledging that “a lack of equity in our society overall leads to a lot of the problems that police are being asked to solve.” Similar proposals have popped up in Los Angeles and Albuquerque, and Portland is set to launch its own crisis intervention team in coming weeks. CAHOOTS has been in conversations with cities in Texas, Kentucky and New York. On June 1, with money from a 2018 ballot initiative that put $2 million into mental health and substance abuse programs, Denver launched Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR. Slated for a one-year pilot, the single STAR van has already been flooded with more than 50 calls. Those skeptical of calls to “defund the police” might worry about the safety responders if an armed officer isn’t present. An emergency response team that doesn’t involve cops is a plus, advocates say.