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💬 "How Acid Trips Led to Better Policing"

Today, Explained

Photo by Bram Azink / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Sean Rameswaram
Guest: Rowan Moore Gerety, Journalist, The Atlantic
Category: Society & Culture | 💬 Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:57] “I wrote about a program in Eugene, Oregon, called CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance, Helping Out On The Streets. And basically what it is, is a mobile crisis response service that's integrated into their 911 dispatch system. So you call 911 […] and based on the particulars of what you say, the 911 dispatchers might say [that] […] instead of sending a cop, it might be better […] to send CAHOOTS. […] CAHOOTS  is basically two people, one with a crisis or outreach background, the other with some kind of a medical background, […] on a van with first aid supplies, snacks and just an approach that is all about de-escalation and connecting with the person at the center of the call.”

[3:17] “CAHOOTS is a program of a community health clinic that's been around since the 60s in Eugene. And that clinic, White Bird, really came out of the sort of hippie movement of that era. There was an earlier clinic in the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco that sort of pioneered this model of, Hey, the authorities, […] the medical establishment doesn't know how to deal with people who are having a bad trip. They're not sort of meeting alienated youth where they are. So we need to start a free clinic. So White Bird began that way and has retained a lot of that kind of counterculture institutional culture.”

[9:09] “In practice, a 911 one call doesn't tell you everything. Somebody could be lying. They could be really angry. The connection could be really bad. And the dispatchers are trying to take as much information as they can get in 30, 60, 90 seconds and get somebody on their way there. And so often CAHOOTS is responding to places where there hasn't been […] complete information about the overall situation. And because CAHOOTS has been around for 30 years and a lot of the people who they help probably wouldn't be thrilled to see the cops it's also true that some people will call 911, but try to phrase their need in such a way that it will lead to CAHOOTS being sent and not the police. All of that is to say that really a lot of CAHOOTS’ work, like a lot of police work, happens in a kind of gray area.”

[14:19] “One of the things I've been heartened to see this year is we're starting to see our society do a lot more critical thinking around how we engage with 911. You'll see signs up on people's fences that say, Don't call 911, call this community resource. […] What they're trying to do is respond to or avoid the risk of police violence if things should escalate. And I think we are at a moment where we have a real crisis of legitimacy in some places and with some communities in terms of that 911 response. If people just broadly don't trust your 911 system enough to opt in to the right parts of it, then it's not just that they were misusing it, but it's that the system is not necessarily handling things in a way that it should. In other words, if the risk of police violence is so great or is perceived as so great, that telling the truth about your emergency could get someone you love killed, then we really need to recalibrate.”

[23:02] “I think the main difference, what sets CAHOOTS apart, is scale. So there are a variety of ways that other cities have responded to […] a similar set of challenges around homelessness, drug addiction, mental health issues and so forth. […] There's a program where a licensed mental health professional is paired with a police officer or a sheriff's deputy with special training, and they will go out to acute mental health crisis calls. But […] those handle […] well under 1%. In the case of the Alameda County program, it might just be a few calls a day, whereas CAHOOTS, in a city of only 170,000 goes to 15,000-16,000 calls a year.”

[30:08] “[W]hen you start from the perspective of, Hey, what are the emergencies in our community and what kinds of people would be well-placed to respond to each of those emergencies? You probably wouldn't arrive at, OK, it's either the police department or the fire department. But because the 911 system started out and it was […] police or fire, and […] all of the sort of challenges of city living [have] been layered on top of it, we still just have police or fire. So when you start from that place of, What do we need these people to do? I think you'd get to a very different emergency response system than the one we have now.

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 33 min | 🗓️ 03/01/2021
✅ Time saved: 31 min

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