CORAL SPRINGS, FL – In a city in Oregon, a team of crisis workers responds to many 911 calls related to mental health, homelessness, substance abuse, and threats of suicide – often without the assistance of police officers.

The program in Eugene, known as CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), has saved the city millions of dollars by limiting police and fire responses.

Now, Coral Springs is taking a look at the program.

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As cities evaluate police spending in the wake of the George Floyd killing, many questions center around police responsibilities in handling societal problems such as those related to mental health.

This week, Coral Springs commissioners came under pressure from residents not to fund new police equipment and training and instead spend the money on social services programs for people in need. Commissioner approved nearly $30,000 in federal funds anyway.

During the meeting, Coral Springs Police Chief Clyde Parry said he’s reached out to organizers of the CAHOOTS program to learn more about it.

At this point, he said, he’s simply trying to understand how the program works.

In Coral Springs, only about 1 percent of police calls are mental health-related, Parry said.  

Still, records show that in the past year, on most weeks, officers have responded to at least several calls for Baker Act -- a voluntary or involuntary process of placing people with mental illnesses for up to 72 hours in a mental health treatment facility. (Read more about Baker Acts in Coral Springs here.)

Parry said his officers won’t have issues working with civilian crisis workers who have substantial training and experience in the mental health field.

While he said the CAHOOTS program sounds great in principle, there will be times when officers are needed to handle people going through a mental health crisis.

He described an incident years ago when he was working on the streets and responded to a man having a “manic problem.” The man was naked, running around, and acting combative.

“Sometimes you have to go hands-on to get people to calm down,” Parry said.

In Eugene, the CAHOOTS staff do not carry weapons, and they are trained and experienced in non-violent resolution of crisis situations, relying on de-escalation and harm reduction techniques, according to the program’s website. The team is connected to White Bird Clinic, a social services center.

In one year, out of roughly 24,000 CAHOOTS calls, police backup was requested only 150 times, the website said.

It’s not clear if Coral Springs will adopt a program like CAHOOTS, but officials are determined to explore ways to expand mental health in the city, especially in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.

“All of our commission is aligned in making sure that we aren’t just physically safe here but we feel mentally safe as well,” Mayor Scott Brook said.


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