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A CAHOOTS team responds to a mental health crisis in Eugene, OR

How a New Community-Based Alternative to Police Aims to Help Stockton Respond to Mental Health Crises

What if there was another number you could call besides 911 in an emergency? What if the person who responded was a social worker instead of a police officer?

That is the idea behind the C.A.L.L. Stockton initiative, which led to a new pilot program that aims to serve as a community-based alternative to police. The program will help Stockton respond to a wide range of mental health crises—without relying on law enforcement or overstressed emergency responders.

And it has the support of the city, community organizations and residents.

Let’s take a closer look at what this new emergency response system can do, why it matters and how it works in practice.

Why community-based alternatives are being considered in Stockton

Policing in the Central Valley and across the nation has come under increasing scrutiny following police abuse and killings of people of color.

This trend has led to calls to redirect funding to community-based alternatives.

Questions have also been raised about whether police should continue to respond to calls that are outside of their purview and training, such as mental health or addiction issues. According to a Washington Post database of fatal shootings by on-duty police officers, police officers fatally shoot hundreds of people experiencing mental health crises every year.

In Stockton, of the three people who died after encounters with Stockton police last year, all three were reportedly experiencing mental health or drug-related crises.

As a result, alternative call centers have been gaining national attention in cities like Denver, Oakland, San Francisco and, most recently, Stockton. Alternative call centers and their mobile crisis response teams are more equipped for crisis intervention and are rooted in de-escalation.

This community-based approach can help to redirect police resources toward more appropriate and restorative responses.

The Eugene, Oregon model

C.A.L.L. Stockton began as the people’s initiative to re-imagine public safety. Now known as the Care Link Mobile Crisis Intervention Response, it launched as a three-year pilot project in November 2022.

It’s being run by Community Medical Centers and is funded with $5.75 million in ARPA funds.

The program includes teams of social workers, case managers, community health workers and other professionals who are trained to respond to mental wellness, homelessness, addiction and other crises.

The program was inspired by the CAHOOTS model in Eugene, OR, which has been in place for almost 35 years.

The CAHOOTS teams consist of a medic — either a nurse or emergency medical technician — and a crisis worker experienced in behavioral health. All the team members have undergone at least 500 hours of training, which emphasizes de-escalation and crisis intervention.

Currently, the CAHOOTS teams respond to about 24,000 calls a year — 20% of the total 911 calls received. Fewer than 1% of these calls to CAHOOTS ended up requiring police intervention.

How Care Link benefits the community

Another important benefit of this type of program is that it keeps people out of the criminal justice system and helps them receive the assistance that they need.

This community-centered response redirects police resources from handling crises that they’re not trained to handle to more restorative, trauma-informed approaches.

Similar programs have been found to pay for themselves and to save public resources.

The reports from the White Bird clinic, which runs the CAHOOTS program, show that the program saves taxpayers an average of $8 million on public safety annually. The program also saves taxpayers roughly $14 million for ambulance services and emergency room treatment.

At the same time, the yearly budget for their program is only about $2.1 million.

How Faith in the Valley is supporting this initiative

Currently, our leaders are part of a team that has been meeting with Community Medical Centers to check in on the program’s progress on an ongoing basis. This builds on three years of organizing with numerous partners that led to the launch of the program.

Additionally, Community Medical Centers’ board has approved the creation of an oversight committee—made up of community members—to help ensure that the program maintains its original vision over time.

So far, we’ve been pleased to learn that the Care Link program has already been making good on its mission.

Recently, the team provided care to a woman experiencing homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction. Through two visits, they were able to take her to get a shower, get food and receive medical treatments. When the woman was spotted on the street later, the team reached out and determined that she could use a mental health assessment.

She later agreed to be taken to a county behavioral health clinic for additional services.

As we’ve experienced up until this point, Care Link is an innovative program that provides a much-needed alternative to police intervention for any type of mental health crisis.

The program has already seen some success, but there is still a lot of work to be done in order to ensure that everyone in the Stockton community who needs it has access to this service.

At Faith in the Valley, we believe we must continue to support initiatives like Care Link and similar programs across the country that are working toward alternatives to policing that better protect and serve the community.

To learn more about the Care Link Mobile Crisis Intervention Response and how our C.A.L.L. Stockton initiative led to this breakthrough program, watch this video.

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