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Reimagining Modern Policing

Season 1, Episode 10

Michelle Perin joins us from CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Street) to discuss their model in place for creating social safety nets within our communities. 

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[Intro music]

 

Noelle: Whaaaaat up?!

Miranda: Welcome to The Unpacked Project

Noelle: We’re your hosts-I’m Noelle

Miranda: And I'm Miranda.

Noelle: We're here to explore all things social justice. It's through casual conversations, interviews, and story telling that we hope to inspire others to take action towards a more compassionate and equitable world.

Miranda: 'Cause honestly it kinda sucks here sometimes.

Noelle: For real, we can do better people.

Miranda: Alright, let's start unpacking.

 

[Music plays]

 

We're joined today by Michelle Perin, an EMT Crisis Worker with CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets. Michelle holds her Master's in Criminology and Criminal Justice and is in her second year of her Master's of Social Work. She spent 5 years as a volunteer firefighter/EMT with a combination fire department, 8 1/2 years working in children's mental health in 8 years as 911 dispatcher. She's been with CAHOOTS since 2016 and has responded to everything from mental health situations such as suicidal ideation and behavior, psychotic episodes and grief following death, to medical issues like wound care and overdoses. The team at CAHOOTS handles issues complicated by substance abuse and homelessness. And all situations are viewed from a humanitarian, harm reduction lens, with the goal of client self empowerment. Although the team values their relationship with public safety, they often respond in lieu of officers, which oftentimes helps mitigate potentially volatile situations.

 

Noelle  

Michelle, thank you so much for being here today. So I know Miranda gave you that introduction, but can you share a little more in depth about what you do with Cahoots and the organization in general?

 

Michelle  

Yeah, definitely. Thank you for having me and letting us lean into this conversation. I'm excited about that. So CAHOOTS is actually part of a larger organization, White Bird Clinic, which started out of the counterculture of the 1960s. So about 1969, in Eugene, Oregon. So the founders were looking for kind of a more humanistic service model for social and medical issues that were occurring during the day. And they didn't really see anything that was matching what they wanted. And so they started one. So they wanted to make sure that they were providing these services, which included crisis services. They had walk in and telephone crisis services at the time. Around 1989 they had a small crisis unit that was starting to go out into the field to meet people, and a conversation got started with the police, we're still trying to figure out kind of, you know, how that happened with the police department about how those two organizations could work together to provide crisis services. The name is kind of tongue in cheek, you know, the police were going to be in cahoots with a bunch of hippies and the hippies were going to be in cahoots with a bunch of police. So it kind of stuck, you know, and the acronym makes sense. So that's kind of how we became a department of Whiteboard Clinic. They've continued to provide a lot of services that are really important to us doing our work in, you know, homeless department, medical, dental, behavioral health and substance use counseling, day use centers, and still have a very robust walk in and telephone crisis. So as far as Cahoots, we're a 24 hour service now, in the city of Eugene. We also have 18 hours of overlapping where we have a second van on the street. And we're 24 hours in the city of Springfield, which started in about 2015. So each van has a crisis worker, which is somebody who's trained in mental health. And it also has a medical worker, which is either an EMT or an RN. Several--or actually most of our 40...35 to 40 employees are cross trained, so they can actually do both jobs. You may have two people on the van, but you actually have, you know, a variety of ways to handle something, which makes it a lot better for the clients because maybe some, you know, one of our approach is not quite working, and then the other person can step in and do a different approach and allow for, you know, for that flexibility. So we are tied into a public safety communication system. So we're dispatched through the police department, the same dispatchers that dispatch Police, Fire, EMS--they dispatch us. We have police radios on so we are in contact--direct contact with law enforcement all the time. So we're kind of that fourth arm of public safety, which makes us really unique. It makes our model very unique because dispatchers can send us first or, like actually in lieu of another first responder.

 

Miranda  

Cause honestly you have a beautiful model, right. And you guys have been around for a while and it works. And I think a lot of people aren't really aware that this is happening. You know, we talk about defunding the police and can it be done, and here you are doing this work and the wheel doesn't need to be reinvented, you know? So I'm curious what were some of the challenges that arose from partnering with Whitebird Clinic and the police department? And how were these challenges overcome?

 

Michelle  

So I mean, there definitely have been challenges since the beginning that have kind of allowed us to bridge this gap between kind of the community, the social service, this more humanistic model, and traditional public safety. So we've been bridging that gap for over three decades and trying to figure out how to stay in that uncomfortable in between place. So, you know, we kind of pushed our way into the system, we wanted to be able to help clients and so we were willing to kind of jump in there and, and get in cahoots with the police department so that we could get access to those calls. So that we could start mitigating some of the harm that was happening because the traditional public safety system wasn't designed to support our failing social service net, but they were the only ones that were left to kind of handle those calls. So we just kind of pushed our way in. And what was kind of interesting is, prior to George Floyd's murder, we actually were doing some of our own internal work where we were being pushed because of some things that were occurring within our team, where we had some really amazing, brave, BIPOC coworkers who were saying, you know, there's stuff that we need to look at that may not be in line with anti racism. And you know, we thought we were a pretty progressive team. So we're like--no, you know, we have this together, and they're like--here's your mirror. No, you don't. So we, I mean, internally, we realized that we were being challenged with--we're in a very White area of the country, I mean, Oregon's notorious for being a state that started by saying, BIPOC you can't even be here, like, you can't live in the state. And so, you know, first of all face that very harsh reality that we think we're this great, progressive, little western state, and they're like--yeah, no. You guys have a lot of White privilege, a lot of systemic racism that you have to be willing to actually tackle before you're going to be able to actually serve in any other population. So they really showed these mirrors to us, and we learned that we had to unlearn messaging we didn't even know we had. And that was not only individually, and we were really lucky that, you know, our very few BIPOC co workers were willing to put in that emotional labor to teach us. We tried to be very aware that it was not their job to help us learn, it was not their job to teach us. And we stayed very conscious of checking in with them to make sure that it was still comfortable for them. Plus, we reached out to BIPOC educators that were willing to come in and help us unlearn and relearn messages we didn't know we had. And as an agency, like some pretty significant  systemic racism and just inbred White privilege that was within our processes got, you know, pulled up. Like this all happened even before, you know--it was probably about a month and a half, two months before George Floyd was murdered. So before we got launched into the public eye as this national model, we were already struggling with these things, which kind of shows that, you know, we are kind of a model for what everyone's struggling with. You know, we're struggling internally, we're doing our own work, we're doing--trying to do work externally, you know, nobody's perfect in this. And we all have a lot to unlearn, and a lot to learn. So that's been the biggest challenge is just continuing to bridge that gap. There was some issues about which side are you on? You know, are you on the community side? Are you on, you know, are you on the side of the oppressed, and marginalized, which is part of your mission? But you're in CAHOOTS, you're a partnership with the police department. And the police department was saying, do you back us? Are you at odds with us? And we were like--look, we just want to do our jobs. We just want to continue  providing good care to both the community and the police. 

 

Miranda  

Exactly. 

 

Michelle  

Yeah, we just want to go out and do our work. So that internal and external. So one of our biggest challenges is still, you know, how to show up forthe  oppressed in the marginalized communities, especially when they have to access us through the police department. Our eyes have kind of been opened to the fact that they may not call us. They may not try to access our services because of our model, no matter how badly we want to say no, it's okay. It's not, it's not okay.

 

Noelle  

So, one of the things that you mentioned is the importance of having CAHOOTS around because we know, part of the dialogue that's happened nationally, but I think internally in social services and, you know, departments that have handled things like this are that police are not trained to be able to manage all of these different calls that they receive. Based on 2016 research from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, it's estimated that 20% to 50% of fatal encounters with law enforcement involved an individual with a mental illness. So how do operators decide, you know, when a call comes through, how do they decide when to send police or when to send CAHOOTS? How does that work? And how often are police actually needed to help assist in cases when codes is called out?

 

Michelle  

So I mean, the police department is a quasi military organization. So they have policies and procedures that had to be put into place to kind of dictate, you know, priority of calls, how these calls were going to go through their dispatch system, which I imagine has evolved over the years. I mean, I imagine that  if you look at a dispatch console today, it looks very different than it did back in 1992. So the policies have had to change as well, as public safety is looked at, you know, has had an increasing number of calls that are inappropriate for them. One of the things you mentioned is, you know, who else can you call  24 hours a day, seven days a week, if you have an issue? And unfortunately society has decided that the police are the answers to all their issues. Nobody's talking to their neighbors anymore. Nobody wants to do any of the work themselves, they just want an officer to come out and tell somebody to do something, you know, so they're, they're kind of putting into that place. So dispatch itself, you know, so they're trained to--somebody can call the 911, or the non emergency police number, and they can ask for CAHOOTS directly, like, they just say--I'd like CAHOOTS. So the dispatcher is going to briefly make sure that there's no crime or danger involved in that call. And we've had a lot of dialogue with them about not wanting to be over curious, like people are calling for us, not--they're not wanting to be questioned by the police, even through a representative on the phone. And so just gather enough to be able to send us in lieu of the police, so no other other first responder needs to go. Somebody could call and ask for an officer, but it's for a situation that's not officer appropriate. An armed responder doesn't need to show up to a number of the calls that people call in with. And so dispatch can decide, this sounds like a CAHOOTS only response as well. And so they will send CAHOOTS out in lieu of the police again. We can also go with police, so if it's a call that's kind of one of those gray areas where they're not sure it may, you know, need a little bit of additional police support, maybe some authority behind it, we can go together, or the police can request this themselves. Like, they go out on the call, they realize that it's more appropriate for a mental health worker, or it's just not a crime, it's not one of those calls that they need to handle, they can request that we go. So there was some numbers that Eugene actually kind of pulled to look at, because no one was really doing any kind of data collection before this, like we just were doing direct care. We weren't researchers you know? There's a lot of questions people ask about, you know, how does this work? And  they want those quantifiable numbers, and we're like, we don't know, we're just doing this thing, you know? So we're having to scramble to collect what researchers and what funders and what the scientific community want for us to prove what we're doing. So Eugene police did try to quantify some things for us last year with their crime analysis. And so in 2019, they found that we handled--CAHOOTS went out on 20,746, public initiated calls for service. So like, just under 20,800 calls of these 13,854 that were CAHOOTS only calls, like so that was 13,854 times the police did not go and talk to somebody, we just went and talk to somebody. And often we don't need to have anything. We don't need to have another responder come out to handle whatever the situation is. And so they did pull some numbers as far as how many times we had to ask for emergency backup--like an officer coming right now, lights and siren, we need your backup. Code through backup. And they found that it was less than 8% of the calls. And a lot of times in my experience, it's because of the voluntary nature of our work. We do not go hands on with anybody, we don't take away anybody's rights. We can't make them do anything. So if we go out on a situation and somebody is a danger to themselves or others--they're walking in the road and they won't stop walking in traffic. They now are saying that they're going to harm themselves and they won't safety plan with us but they're not willing to go to the hospital with us. Like, we need to call for an officer if that person is an immediate danger to themselves or others so that they can come. Sometimes we need that state sanctioned authority to make somebody do something so that they don't harm themselves or others, and even then, a lot of times the officer will come and say--you're going to do this thing, a lot of times it's going to the hospital for a mental health evaluation, but they still have the option to be transported by CAHOOTS. The officer is going to go and they're going to use that, you know, police officer hold once they get there, but it's still a more humane way of dealing with somebody's mental health crisis and getting them in either in our van, they're not in handcuffs in the back of patrol car, they are, you know, we really tried to make it be the the most appropriate situation. I mean, there have been no CAHOOTS workers in our history that have been killed, and there's been very few assaults. And mostly it's been because we just got too close in a situation where, you know, we got brave. And sometimes people are, you know, they might be a little higher, they might be a little, you know, in a state of psychotic, that you just want to really make sure that you stay, you know, a little bit of distance.

 

Miranda  

I mean, ultimately, it sounds like it's a safety net and you guys provide a service for communities to feel safe, and you know, that they can reach out to, but even with that,   with such high numbers calling into 911 for CAHOOTS, you still mentioned that citizens face barriers with that, right? We can only imagine that that happens to specific communities. Do you think it's had an effect on access to services for any communities in particular? And if so, how have you pivoted to continue to provide services and supports?

 

Michelle  

Yeah, so, you know, like I mentioned earlier, going through police to access us is definitely the largest barrier. We've began conversations with a variety of marginalized and oppressed communities that we've reached out to and asked them, you know, why wouldn't you contact--or is there anything that we can do to provide services in a more appropriate, respectful, culturally aware manner? And really, you know, it's hard to mitigate that if they don't want to go to the police department. So you know, we've been in talks with--the Eugene police chief has been pretty open and progressive about recognizing that and wanting the service to be accessible to everyone trying to bridge that gap between like, particularly communities of color in our area. So we've talked about, it looks like what we're going to be getting is like on the phone tree, when you dial you get like dial one for police dial, see for CAHOOTS is going to be an option, they can just dial four, and they did get Cahoots, and they've talked about giving us our own phone number, so they don't have to dial 911 or a police number. And also about giving us our own dispatcher, one that's trained and just does work with us, and is still going to be trained within the system, because like I said, it's important for us to be part of that public safety system, it makes this work valid. And you know, it puts it into the same league as traditional public safety. So being apart from it, we wouldn't be able to be as effective. But even those three things, they really are just still a different way of calling the police to access us. You know, so we haven't. honestly, we haven't found her answers yet. We're still in--here's a lot of discussions going on, there's a lot of, you know, trying to figure out--there's a lot of listening sessions where we're saying--hey, is there any way that we can provide services in a way that you're going to be willing to access us. We talked about pagers, there's people on our teams that don't even know what that is. A pager. We even talked about going old school and saying-- okay, can we have a pager where you can directly you know, maybe we go through an organization that you're comfortable going through and they can page just directly. So the conversations are happening. At the same time, we recognize that we've got a lot of our own internal work to do. So we definitely want to make sure that we are right, we have done our own anti racism work before we ever tried to show up for anyone else. Because if we're showing up as White saviors just like the system, then we are not doing anyone any good. So maybe this is a good step back for us while we're figuring out these issues, to do our own work to make us appropriate to show up for communities of Color.

 

Noelle  

I'm curious, are there demographic differences between Eugene and Springfield? Because I know it was mostly with Eugene and then you said, I think it was 2015 you started servicing Springfield, do you see demographic differences between those two communities? 

 

Michelle  

Um, they're very different. They have very different community styles and very different policing styles. Eugene is a college town. It's you know, people are highly educated, I believe socioeconomic status is higher. I really don't know what the numbers are as far as what our communities of Color look like, in Eugene or in Springfield, but I know Springfield also is a very blue collar town. It's very industrial, lower education, lower socio economics, more--it's more, more rural, it has a lot of roll around the edges of it. And so then the police departments are very different, like Eugene has been known for being a very progressive department. I mean, they went in cahoots with hippies in 1989, most departments would be like--I don't even think so, that's not a thing we're doing. And Springfield has been a little bit harder to convince them that, you know, this partnership makes sense. But even since 2015, the patrol officers love us. They recognize that they are not trained, that they do not, they were never intended to handle a lot of those social safety net calls. And when we show up, and we are the trained professionals, and we're taking over, they're like, we're out! We are happy to be out and go do policing things. So I mean, it can definitely be a challenge. And it just shows that every community is going to be unique. So any community that's looking at starting a CAHOOTS style model is going to have to look internally. We're not a cookie cutter model, we weren't a cookie cutter model between the two cities that we worked with. And so no other community is going to be able to just plunk us down and say do it like this. They're going to have to have a lot of community conversations, like all of the people from the community that are invested, marginalized, oppressed People of Color, they need to be at the table to talk about what theirs looks like. So, you know, I'm hoping that we're reaching more pockets of people than we were before, but we don't have any data to support it.

 

Noelle  

Well, I mean, when we think about this, you know, the type of approach that you guys are using, some people may think it's more expensive to provide stabilization, psychologic crisis management services. Like it seems like adding an extra layer. But the truth is that it actually could save police departments a lot of money, it's just more about diverting services to the correct places and having the correct people respond. So from a financial standpoint, can you share how much of taxpayer dollars were actually saved in Eugene, from having this type of a program?

 

Michelle  

Yeah, I mean, the financial piece is always going to be a big consideration. We haven't been able to get exact numbers from Eugene or Springfield police yet, I think they're still trying to, you know--it's hard because it's not really apples or oranges. Like, I know in the beginning there was talk of--well, you know--funding for 24 hours of Cahoots was the same as funding two or three officers. But it's hard to try to figure out what that actually looks like, as far as cost. I did read somewhere that somebody had estimated that it's about an $8 million savings, and we only charged a million dollars. So we're pretty inexpensive considering if you're just looking at the dollars. And also there, we do have numbers that show that we did save an additional 8 million in health care costs, because we definitely look at what we do as a public health crisis. Like this is a public health crisis. It's not just a public safety issue. So $8 million in health care costs, because of our diversions from using an ambulance or going to the hospital going to the ER, and so that savings returned to our state Medicaid. So we're saving money in ways that may not necessarily just be from the police department, but definitely, you know, there's a big chunk of, you know, when you divert money into preventative, you're gonna save money in the end. 

 

Miranda  

Well, and then I think about, you know, with so many killings like this pay out to families as well, right? There's this huge, huge amount of money, because they're not trained, and here's a program that's trained, so let's just divert to the experts, right. So, you know, it's so connected. And aside from the financial impact, there are plenty of benefits across the board that are not financial. So,  what, well...what are the other benefits to community support like this?

 

Michelle  

There are so many. I mean, when you stop looking at you know, even the money aspect,  you're looking at like--one of the things that research has shown is that neighborhoods that have crime only have one constant variable, and it's unemployment and poverty. So that is the only constant variable, it is not race. It is not gender. It is not a geographic location. It is unemployment and poverty. And so police are not designed to handle unemployment and poverty. So, when you start looking at the preventative things, like, it's not even--there's no costs assigned to the calls that I've gone on where I've been able to meet somebody where they're at, allow them to be the leader of their own solutions, to hear them. Especially when you look at marginalized--you know, we're not even just talking race, we're talking like people who struggle with homelessness, people who struggle with substance use, they are not even seen. People don't see that, you know? That the person that's standing there with the sign. They don't even look at them, you know, and so when you show up, and you are like--I see you. You are a human just like I am, and you deserve dignity. There's no cost. You're never going to be able to put $1 sign on that. And to be able to connect people with the appropriate services, like how to get them housed, how to get them mental health support, how to get them even just, you know, crisis respite for the day so that they can regroup, figure out what they're going to do, you know, to have transportation to staff services, like get them over to the service station so they can get a shower, so they can go on that job interview. You know, there's just so many. I mean, humanizing people. You just can't quantify the cost and I could never even quantify the feeling that comes from an interaction like that. Like it is an empathetic, human to human connection that I think just makes the world a better place.

 

Noelle  

Well, and, you know, there's been a lot of talk, obviously, with defunding the police. So it's a common topic that's come up and a debate kind of going on, you know, in our country, especially right now with the current climate, and many people think it just can't be done. And I think they hear defunding and they think we're talking about getting rid of police entirely. And it just sort of like a misunderstanding of what it actually means. So you know, here, you guys have a model. It's been running, it's running well, for nearly 30 years. But what do you think the concerns are of the population that's against defunding the police? And are there cities that are trying to replicate your model? Have you guys gone out and worked with any other cities? And if so, how is that progressing? What's that looking like?

 

Michelle  

Yeah, I completely agree with you. I think that it's about a misundersta--it's about language, faulty definitions and fear. I think that is what is at the root of it. Like you mentioned, when people hear the word defund police, they think abolish. They think we're gonna get rid of it. And like, that's not even a concept that they could wrap their mind around. I don't think that's a concept any of us could wrap our mind around, like, how do you just all of a sudden create a vacuum where public safety used to be? And so the first thing is, you know, you have to look at it and say--okay, well, as a society, we've pretty much defunded the entire social safety net- education, mental health, substance use, housing. I mean, the list goes on, and on and on. We've slowly defunded all of the things that do preventative and proactive care. And so really what it is, and I love, you know, that idea of the reimagining, like let's imagine something different than what it is. We're having to send this more expensive police/jail option into these situations that used to be funded in a in a different way. And so I think that if people get a more clear understanding of the appropriate roles and responsibilities of police--and some of that comes by understanding the clear look at the statistics around calls, like there's really only about 1 to 10% of police calls that are violent, in progress calls. So the rest aren't. The rest or something else, that means that they could potentially be handled by somebody else. And also that idea that there's a disproportionate amount of taxpayer money that goes to police budgets. If you look at like a lot of the pie charts that you get from the cities, it's like--wow, look at that. And then you know, I think there's this little tiny chart like--

 

Hosts  

Laughter and chiming in

 

Michelle  

It's almost like one of those where at the bottom of the chart, they're like-too small to even quantify. Here's these agencies that like, they don't even fit on the pie chart because it's so tiny they can't even have their own color. And so I think that around the language of defending, you need to reimagine that it is not about abolishing, it's about utilizing taxpayer funds in a way that is appropriate to the solution that we are trying to create. The other thing is about faulty definitions. I think that it's ingrained in much of our society, that public safety is synonymous with policing. And that's just not true. Like I mentioned earlier, when you look at crime not being connected to policing issues, it's connected to public health and social safety issues, so what's going to make those communities safer? Not more police. Not more of that. So it's that faulty definition where people have to go--okay, I may have been taught that public safety means officer friendly, but does it really? Let's reimagine what the word public safety might look like. I mean, there's communities in Alaska where they don't have officers, they're still safe. The community makes it safe, they redefined what public safety looked at. Here in Phoenix, there's areas where they don't call for police, and police don't go. They have created their own way of doing public safety. So they're not synonymous with each other and I think we need to talk about what really makes the public safe. And it may not be the way that we've been taught.  And the last, unfortunately, is fear. It's fear driven, not only just based on the messages that a lot of people have gained over their entire lives, but also the fear that's being rammed down people's throats right now. You know, certain leaders are convincing everybody that without law and order, like it's going to be chaos, and, you know, we're all going to be in danger. And, you know, even unfortunately, many of the police unions are putting out that kind of message like in Austin, you know, they put up a bunch of billboards that said enter at your own risk, because they got some of their money deflected. And so it's, it's very real, that fear makes people want to stay where they are comfortable. And unfortunately, we're never going to be able to reimagine public safety, if we want to stay comfortable.

 

Miranda  

So if we get uncomfortable, and we're able to reimagine, right? You know, you just said the word reimagining a lot. What would our current police system across the United States look like, if we lived in a more just and equitable world?

 

Michelle  

You know, to me, I mean, it's gonna look different to everybody. And this is something that I've really had to think about. You know, one of the very cool things about CAHOOTS too, is we have such a--we have a lot of diversity within our staffing. For example, you know, one of our amazing, brave, African American women that works on the team, her father was killed by police in the city that we work in. Me, on the other hand, you know, I've been in public safety for 22 years, I've been around it, I'm married to an officer who's been on the streets for 21 years. So we have very different--like, you would think that we were coming into this from very different lenses, but we have the same values and the same beliefs and the same vision for the world, like the vision of what we want to see. And that just shows that you may be coming from totally different places but your vision can be the same. So policing would be vastly different. It would be one that's funded, staffed and trained based on appropriate roles and responsibilities. You know, if violent, in progress calls are only 1 to 10% of what the police do, then maybe we only need 1 to 10% police, you know? I mean, it's, uh, you know, you look at that research and say--okay, like, let's make it match the type of calls that you're needed for. Maybe a little extra just in case things kind of, you know, we need that armed response. But we don't need you to respond to the things that you're inappropriate for. Police would no longer be the social safety net, we would figure out the appropriate spaces for, you know, the appropriate professionals to be that social safety net. Police would no longer respond to issues that are not crimes in progress, you know, issues that do not require an armed response. Because that's one of the things that Cahoots does, when we show up only, we've already immediately eliminated an armed responder being on scene. And communities would be empowered to define and design what their public safety looks like. They would have to sit down and you know, and everybody needs to be at the table- marginalized, oppressed, like all of the demographics of the community need to be there from the imagining to the inception, like throughout the whole entire thing. Make it very community based. The whole system would be preventative and proactive. You know, unfortunately we're such a reactive system that policing is such a reactive. They react to stuff. And so, a whole different world that's just and equitable would be not having reactions based on fear, over exaggerated threat, and a warrior mentality.

 

Noelle  

And I think when we think about training for police departments and training for mental health practitioners, it's, you know, it's obviously clearly different. Do you see that there's been any overlap? Or are mental health professionals or your department--do they train police departments ever in de escalation are some of these techniques? Because we know we're not in reality right now where only 1 to 10% of police are getting called out, right? And in lots of places. So, do you hear about these models where police are starting to be trained in some of these techniques? Or is it still very separate in many places?

 

Michelle  

I think police have recognized that they've had to be that kind of social safety net and that they were going to be sent to calls that you know, this idea of the percentage of mentally ill people that have an exponentially higher chance of being killed by police. It's been around for a while. So departments have tried. There's a lot of crisis intervention teams where it used to be that would be like a specialized unit. Now I'm finding that a lot of places, they're training that across the board, plus they're bringing de escalation and kind of mental health training into the academy. The problem is, is officers are still being trained on a threat model. They're still being trained to focus on that kill or be killed. So when you go into a situation with a heightened threat response, , a mentality that everybody is out to kill you, and zero tolerance for risk-- you could train them in all the best mental health and you could take the most empathetic, compassionate, humanistic officer, but if you're going to train out all of the--you know, so that they can respond in that one situation that none of us wants to respond to. I mean, I don't WANT to be a police officer. I do not WANT to run into an active shooter at a school. That is not something that I'm interested in doing. And so, to make a human be able to do that, you have to train them in a certain way and you just can't switch that on and off. And so I think it's good that they're continuing to do that training but what I don't think is good is when they say--look, we've got it. We do the same work as a mental health professional, who, like even on CAHOOTS, we have five to six 500 to 600 hours of training. That is very different than a 40 hour class. You know, it's like you've got professionals who are good at handling in progress, violent calls, and you have professionals who are good at dealing with issues that don't require an armed response. 

 

Noelle  

Which is the majority of-it definitely changes right?

 

Michelle  

Which is, yeah, which is the majority, which is good. I mean, I think we'd all love to live in a world where, you know, people aren't hurting.

 

Noelle  

Well, we really appreciate your time today Michelle. You've shed light on a lot of topics that I think have, like we said, have been debates in sort of pop culture and on the news, and just, I think I've also given people maybe some knowledge that they never even realized models like this exist and can be possible for the better of our communities out there from a health perspective. So what we always kind of ask everybody at the end, if there's any social media platforms that we can find you on, any organizations that we should be following to learn more about equity and social justice in this type of area?

 

Michelle  

Yeah, definitely. I'll share that with you. I realized I did not answer one of your questions about other agencies that are looking at our model. So Olympia, Washington has started a model based on ours. In fact, their current police chief was a Eugene officer when Cahoots started in Eugene. So he was like, nope, we need this thing. Even though people are like, that? You can't. He's like--yes. Yes, you can and we're going to. So Denver's rolling out something, we're in talks with Portland and Salem, Oregon, multiple cities in California, as well as Victoria, British Columbia is talking to us about our model. So since May, we've actually received requests from over 400 communities in North America. And so we've been going and doing presentations to their leaders talking to them about what this model would look like and you know, particularly about it's not a cookie cutter. You're not just going to take us and plink us down into this situation. But many of those communities are now in like the feasibility, community discussion and budgeting discussions for the next fiscal year. There's also the CAHOOTS act which has been presented to Congress, which is going to provide funding for communities who want to start a CAHOOTS style model. So there's some exciting stuff that's going out there. And I think we're gonna see some changes. I think everybody's--a lot of people are on board with seeing something different. Something's got to change. But social media, yep, Whitebirdclinic.org. In fact, they have a lot of information about our parent agency and about CAHOOTS. We're on Facebook, we're on Twitter, we're on Instagram, we're on YouTube. In fact, the YouTube channel, there's some really great old like 1975 video of Whitebird, if you want to, like see what it was like back in the day. They dug up some reel to reel probably to show those things. We follow a lot of, you know, organizations, obviously the big ones like ACLU and NAACP for our guidance. We also like the Justice Collaborative, the Marshall Project, Campaign Zero. In California, they have Mental Health First, and then on the East Coast, CCIT-NYC. And we like to follow a lot of local local groups because we like to keep ours very local, just to make sure that we're meeting the needs of--and so Black Unity is a big one that's been of help. Their founders were the ones that were willing to come in and do the personal training to us about communities of Color. Just harm reduction groups and other mutual aid groups. It's just important to keep unlearning and you know, kind of relearning. And thankfully, there's more BIPOC voices that are in mainstream and a lot of non BIPOC people are willing to seek out those voices that they weren't before, to be anti racist. You know, I personally, I know I have my own reenlist. And I'm kind of just practicing sitting back, shutting up, and listening to learn and not respond. 

 

Miranda  

Beautiful. And I'm going to link back to all of those references, thank you so much for that. And thank you just so much for your time today, just shedding light on so many things like Noelle said, you know, some things that folks may not even be aware of. Next week, we are joined by Aisa Johnson, Bail Disrupter and Communications Associate for The Bail Project, we'll explore how freedom isn't free, unpack the pre trial system and discuss the need for bail reform.

[Outro music plays]

Miranda: The Unpacked Project is produced by Vicky Lee. Branding and Marketing by Raquel Avalos.

Noelle: Show us some love and be sure to like, subscribe and review our podcast. And to stay connected and up-to-date, follow us on Instagram at the_unpacked project.

Miranda: Shout out to all of our listeners who unpacked with us today, we’ll see you next week.

Noelle: Peace!

Miranda: Ayye byyeee