To better serve and protect, police need some relief - Albuquerque Journal

To better serve and protect, police need some relief

Calls for the blanket defunding of police are literally killing us. The proof is in the spike of homicides in cities that brutally cut their police budgets during the last year.

That said, it doesn’t mean that programs can’t be implemented to shift police priorities and share duties with other specialists, like mental health professionals, to respond to carefully screened 911 calls.

Now wait before you react. I’m not talking about sending out a lone social worker on a potentially dangerous call or cutting the number of officers on the street. This is about thoughtfully pairing the two forces as a first responder team. It’s about recognizing that there are 8 million people in this country struggling with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder – to say nothing of all the other mental health maladies – and most police officers are simply not trained to deal with them.

Society has unfairly foisted the duty of managing the mentally unstable upon police, coinciding with a glut of street guns and ill-conceived bail reforms, and it is way past time to lift some of the burden off these officers.

Teaming cops and mental health clinicians is one idea currently being tested nationwide, in Boston, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and in several cities in northern California, among others.

(In Albuquerque, Mayor Tim Keller recently created the Community Safety Department to send social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crises in place of armed officers.)

In Houston, the sheer size of the county is a hindrance to a timely team response, so 150 officers are equipped with iPads that instantly put them in touch with specialists at their Center for Mental Health. When confronted with someone in mental distress the officer can get real-time advice on how to handle the situation.

An assessment of the Houston program, which began in 2017, found that remote help from behavioral experts allowed officers to come to an on-scene resolution in 42% of mental health calls. Other subjects were safely sent to an emergency room or psychiatric hospital, and only two were taken to jail.

The success of this team approach is encouraging, especially when you consider that about a quarter of all those shot and killed by police each year are mentally ill citizens experiencing a crisis.

So, that’s one idea to modernize policing. Another has been tried and tested in Eugene, Oregon, for decades.

Thirty years ago, officials in Eugene dared to try something different. After realizing how much time officers were spending responding to non-violent calls involving someone sleeping in a park, dumpster diving behind a luxury building or a homeless person acting strangely they decided to refocus efforts. They created the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Street program, CAHOOTS for short. It has freed up police officers to concentrate on serious crimes.

CAHOOTS has a mobile van staffed with a medic – an EMT or registered nurse – and an experienced crisis worker. They don’t wear uniforms, which can heighten fear among the mentally ill, and they are trained to mediate tense situations. They are most often called upon to respond to suicidal subjects, intoxicated or disorderly people or requests for a welfare check. Most importantly, the city’s 911 operators are specially trained to determine when a CAHOOTS team can be safely dispatched instead of a squad car. In 2019, CAHOOTS teams responded to more than 18,580 calls that otherwise would have diverted police officers. And they do it for a fraction of the cost of sending in sworn law enforcement.

This is a big deal, and the CAHOOTS idea has spread to places as diverse as Denver and New York’s Harlem neighborhood. Whenever the powers that be can compassionately respond to the mentally ill and, at the same time, reduce the strain on overworked cops, it is a win-win. A 2017 study from the Treatment Advocacy Center showed police officers spent 21% of their time responding to or transporting people with mental illness at a cost that year of $918 million. I’m betting the figures are even higher now considering the emotional effects of the pandemic.

Look, the idea of simply stripping millions of dollars from police departments, with no concrete plans for how to deal with the shortfall of first responders, is a recipe for disaster. The CAHOOTS model shows us a tested and proven way forward. Every mayor, police chief and community activist should take notice.; email to

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango

taboola desktop


Ignoring a crime can result in heartbreaking damage to ...
"The world is a dangerous place ... "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because o ...
Feds need to finally get it together on marijuana ...
Quick. Do you know if marijuana ... Quick. Do you know if marijuana is legal in your state? Is it approved for medical, or even recreati ...
Soft-peddling root cause of murder won't stop it
Sad to say, we keep killing ... Sad to say, we keep killing each other. New FBI statistics show that, even though we practiced wides ...
The nation's fixation on the search for Gabby Petito
There are hundreds of thousands of ... There are hundreds of thousands of people reported missing in the United States each year. Last year ...
UNM, city join to spur NM entrepreneurship
ABQnews Seeker
The University of New Mexico and ... The University of New Mexico and the City of Albuquerque are partnering on a new "Right to Start" in ...
Should we honor a killer's every last request - ...
A medium rare rib eye steak, ... A medium rare rib eye steak, a baked potato with butter and sour cream, an iceberg lettuce salad, ga ...
CRIME AND JUSTICE: Do we need more - or ...
Media has too many knee-jerk reactions ... Media has too many knee-jerk reactions to possible 'hate crimes'
Once again, history matters and so does political reality
Here we go again! In the ... Here we go again! In the aftermath of the mismanaged U.S. military pullout in Afghanistan, calls to ...
NM wind project of historic size nearly complete
Renewable power developer Pattern Energy is ... Renewable power developer Pattern Energy is nearing completion of a mammoth wind project in east cen ...