People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Nathaniel S. Brown III, a Long Beach-based civil attorney and community organizer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.
When so many in Long Beach from every constituency are demanding progressive changes to policing, it is appropriate to ask for specific and viable options from change advocates.
What if we adopted a historically successful program that already exists that can be scaled to our city’s needs while reducing the city’s potential legal liability as regarding police use of force claims?
I present CAHOOTS: Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets. This Eugene, Oregon-based program has been operating successfully for 31 years with city funding. The Eugene-Springfield CAHOOTS program provides mobile crisis intervention using teams of two, expertly-trained workers, consisting of a medic and a crisis manager, dispatched through their 911 call center. The program handles more than 17% of Eugene-Springfield crisis calls that would otherwise involve police officers insufficiently trained in crisis management and de-escalation at a net savings of more than $8.5 million.
Academies train police officers primarily in violent crime response, which does not sufficiently prepare them to properly engage members of our community during calls involving mental health, substance abuse, persons experiencing homelessness, suicide prevention or crisis management.
Sending police officers into situations for which, in 26 weeks, they cannot be expertly trained, increases the likelihood that a use of force claim will arise from their response for which the city can be subject to lawsuits resulting in millions of dollars in legal fees, settlements and judgments.
In the last six years, Long Beach has spent more than $30 million on claims against the Long Beach Police Department alone. The city attorney, Charles Parkin, expends a good deal of his resources merely responding to these claims.
Long Beach currently utilizes a similar solution to respond to persons experiencing homelessness successfully run by the Fire Department called HEART (Homelessness Education and Response Team). As a city, we must boldly adopt these proven solutions in order that our community is better served, or we will continue to weather policing-related lawsuits which will rise in the coming years as the plaintiff’s attorney bar expands into this space where juries have become increasingly sympathetic to plaintiffs and verdict amounts rise to reflect it.
Now is the time for a deliberate, fiscally-responsible, and progressive approach to good governance in Long Beach. We must avail ourselves of this moment with purpose and accountability in providing public safety in this community.
I challenge Mayor Robert Garcia, the City Council, City Manager Tom Modica, City Attorney Charles Parkin, City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, and Police Chief Robert Luna to join me in advocating for the adoption of the CAHOOTS model.
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