Reinvesting in Communities
Police departments are responsible for keeping our cities safe, but they should not be burdened by also working to support those with mental health issues, create economic opportunity, or address the other social and cultural problems of our society.
Mental Health Response
Lack of adequate mental response units across the united states has led to the criminalization of severe mental illness. A 2015 report by Treatment Advocacy center (a mental health non-profit in Virginia) estimated that 1 in 10 calls for police services involve mental illness, and 1 in 3 individuals transported to emergency rooms in psychiatric crises are taken there by police officers. Even more frightening are statistics from the same report that suggest 1 in 5 prison inmates, and 1 in 4 fatal police encounters are individuals with a severe mental illness. Rather than adding another training to police officer requirements, communities can integrate existing resources to address mental illness. Police departments can dispatch social service workers to crisis situations and call in police back up as needed.
Education, Housing, and Community Health Resources
Wealth inequality (driven by income inequality, lack of home ownership, and lack of asset building federal policies) and links between socioeconomic status and health put minority and impoverished communities at a serious social and economic disadvantage. Studies show that barriers to fiscal opportunity, coupled with lack of access to education are correlated with increased levels of crime in communities. Rather than solely focusing on the result of these problems, local governments should direct resources towards community support services.
In 1989, the city of Eugene developed a mental health first response program known as CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets). CAHOOTS sends out two person teams (a medic and a crisis worker with mental health training) to manage mental health-related crises and non-emergent medical issues. In Eugene, approximately 1 out of 5 calls to 911 were made about issues of mental health. “In 2019, out of 24,000 CAHOOTS calls, police backup was requested only 150 times.” Not only does the CAHOOTS program lead to a decrease in fatal encounters between law enforcement and mentally ill individuals, but it also saves the city of Eugene an estimated $8.5 million in public safety spending every year (White Bird Clinic-CAHOOTS).
Hopes for the Future
By unburdening the police, leaders can focus their efforts on supporting community needs rather than criminalizing them.