New safety services active or planned
  • A 30-year old Eugene, OR safety program called CAHOOTS has inspired new non-police programs in several cities.
  • CAHOOTS estimates it saves the city of Eugune $8.5m annually
  • Response teams feature a paramedic, mental health worker, and in some cases peer counselor.
  • CAHOOTS is operated by a collectively-run non-profit; others by city fire departments
  • Other pilot programs are being launched in Denver, Los Angeles, New York City and Oakland.
  • In Nov 2020, two proposals emerged in Minneapolis for a new, 24/7 citywide mental health 911 response service. The People's Budget ($4.5M) and Safety For All ($2.4M).

What replaces policing?

When you call 911

Across the country, a handful of cities are rolling out new public safety services that respond to categories of 911 calls without involving police. These programs are inspired by a longstanding and successful program called CAHOOTS, which serves the cities of Eugune and Springfield in Oregon.

It turns out that a lot of 911 calls are not of the dangerous-crime-in-progress variety. In San Francisco, "nonviolent psychiatric and behavioral crisis calls ... account for 25% or more of all police calls for service," which goes higher when including complaints related to homelessness. In Portland, OR, more 911 calls are made about "unwanted persons" than any other reason. Moreover, there is evidence that the model police departments have adopted around the country to deal with mental health calls - Crisis Intervention Teams - is simply not working.

These new public safety services are seizing on these facts and creating an unarmed, health-focused response for categories of 911 calls.

In Minneapolis, 2019's 911 Workgroup investigated some of the same dynamics and produced a report that contained a mix of recommendations centering on similar ideas of "alternate response." It considers both options of creating a new mental health response through the Fire Department, and/or expanding the "co-responder" program in which a mental health professional responds alongside Police.

In November of 2020, Minneapolis saw two new proposals emerge for a new, 24/7 citywide mental health 911 response service. Neither is technical about which call codes would be involved, however one states that "mental health crisis calls ... are the third most common top-priority category; 80% of them are non-life-threatening, and only 9% of them result in a police report." Both proposals envision unarmed mental health professionals and paramedics responding, without police.

The main difference is the size of funding: the People's Budget proposal is a $4.5M budget, which is similar to some other cities (above) where the program is about 2% of the city's police budget. In contrast, Safety for All proposes a $2.44M budget, only about 1% of the MPD budget.

  • The People's Budget: community groups including Black Visions and Reclaim the Block
  • Safety For All: Councilmembers Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher, Lisa Bender

For more exploration of these proposals, view the safety plans visualization

When you want to prevent violent crime

The city of Minneapolis' Office of Violence Prevention (within the Health Department) operates programs that use public health knowledge to prevent violence outside of the Police Department. Increasing funding to these programs was one of the key demands made by community members urging a shift of funds away from policing back in 2018.

Looking forward, Mayor Frey's proposed 2021 budget includes:

  • $100,000 in continuing funding for the Group Violence Intervention program
  • $250,000 in new, ongoing funding for a community-based office and community manager
  • $2.5 million in new, ongoing funding for the MinneapolUS Street Outreach Initiative, aka "Violence Interrupters" (loosely modeled along the lines of a program in Chicago)

Others have suggested additional violence prevention programs, including:

  • $2.0 million: Expand Community Navigators, expand Next Step, expand the Institute to Prevent Violence; develop Group Violence Intervention in South Minneapolis; increase Office of Violence Prevention operating budget to open northside/southside offices (Safety For All)
  • $1.9 million: Transfer Crime Prevention from MPD to Neighborhood and Community Relations; fund restorative justice & de-escalation training; increase the Violence Prevention Fund (Safety for All)
  • $6.5 million: Fund coordinated street outreach teams geared toward violence prevention and supportive services (People's Budget)
  • $950,000: Neighborhood restorative justice programs (People's Budget)
  • $200,000: Fund the replacement of a federal community safety coordination grant for community safety activities for and by Little Earth residents and to restart restorative justice programming (People's Budget)
When you want to reduce harm generally?

Advocates of defunding police, aka police abolition, point to root causes that go deeper than those addressed by these programs: poverty, housing, mental health, addiction, pollution, patriarchy, capitalism... Our point is often that a focus on certain immediate harms, either in our discussions or in our budget documents, obscures root problems that will perpetually yield those immediate harms as symptoms. This expands the question of "what replaces policing?" to a much broader set of ideas.

Just one example of a program that attempts to reduce harm before it reaches the level of emergency response is Southside Harm Reduction Services (full disclosure: I'm a donor). SHRS distributes naloxone to prevent overdoses and clean syringes to prevent the spread of disease. They do street outreach and education among people who use substances.

  • CAHOOTS budget data and calls. Call numbers listed from 2019, and are for Eugene only.
  • Portland Street Response budget data, call data from 2018. Calls served range is based on # of "unwanted persons" calls on the low end, to all "disorder" calls on the high.
  • Mental Health SF budget data, call data from 2019. Calls served range is based on # of "code 800 Mentally Disturbed Person" calls on the low end, to all mental health calls (subtracting those coded "weapon/potential for violence") on the high.
  • Minneapolis budget proposals for the Office of Violence Prevention PDF pages 179-185 (numbered within the PDF as pages 366 - 372)
  • Minneapolis 911 workgroup's 911 data visualizations. Call numbers from this data were used to estimate potential calls that could be served by a new mental health response service.
  • The People's Budget Proposal
  • Safety For All Budget Proposal