It’s not fair to ask police to do things they are poorly equipped for. Rushing out to a 911 call about a suicidal subject with police is much better than nothing.
But if you were to reimagine public safety, it’s easy to imagine the better response for that call and many others would be to send a team that includes a trained mental health professional.
The Bend Police Department already has a community response team that includes a mental health clinician who goes with police on some calls. Deschutes County has a Mobile Crisis Assessment Team, or MCAT, made up of mental health workers who can respond to crises. And there’s also some very encouraging news about MCAT, as The Bulletin’s Garrett Andrews reported in Thursday’s paper. MCAT is going to pilot a program to have it respond to 911 calls from suicidal subjects. County 911 gets about three of those calls a day. If it works, it could be expanded to include other kinds of calls.
Reimagining policing also involves reimagining funding for public safety. The state grant to enable Bend’s program was for five years. We would hate to see that program end. And if MCAT is going to expand, that will take money, too, perhaps $300,000 a year.
House Bill 2417 could be key. It’s a bill to provide $10 million in matching grants to cities and counties to do the type of work Bend’s program and MCAT can do. But as originally written, the bill would not have done much good for Central Oregon. It was written narrowly to promote the CAHOOTS model in Eugene.
The CAHOOTS program deservedly has been in the national spotlight as one model of using a team to be the first responders to people in crisis because of mental health, homelessness and addiction. It uses a medic and a crisis worker with mental health training. Not police. And it works.
But HB 2417 specified that the grants were for teams that included a nurse or emergency medical services provider and a crisis worker. That is the CAHOOTS model. Bend’s program would not qualify. MCAT’s team would not, either.
The bill also required that to qualify for grant funding that a city or county must have a sobering facility, one shelter facility for every 65,000 residents, one crisis respite center and law enforcement willing to help — or equivalent services. That could mean many communities across the state would not be eligible for grants, including Bend and Deschutes County.
The bill was amended in early April to be more broad. But it doesn’t appear as if either Bend’s program or the MCAT program would qualify, at least as they are currently set up. The city and the county should not have to set up completely new programs. The grants should enable them to build on what they already achieved, not start over or compel them to incorporate something new into their already excellent work.
HB 2417 is due for some more reimagining in the Legislature.