Amid changes to policing across the country, the Oakland City Council is set to approve a pilot program where 911 operators will direct trained civilians to handle mental health calls.
The Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) will be implemented in the East Oakland Area and will run as a police free operation within the Oakland Fire Department. Two person teams of emergency medical technicians and trained community members will handle mental health calls and low level 911 calls. Those include public urination, erratic behavior, and welfare checks.
According to Yahoo News, the final details are being worked out between the fire department and stakeholders.
“We don’t want [police] involved in these calls because we’re sick of the death count,” Cathy Leonard, a member of the Coalition for Police Accountability, told The Appeal. “We need resident-centered responses.”
Due to the pandemic and the city’s budget crisis, the MACRO program received $1.85 million of the $3.09 million the program was due to receive. City Council members, however, say the funds the program did receive is part of the effort to reduce the city’s police department budget by 50%.
The MACRO program is based on Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS program, an emergency services response unit that assists the police department by taking social service and mental health calls. CAHOOTS personnel serves as the initial contact and transport for people who are mentally intoxicated, mentally ill, or disoriented.
According to a crime analysis by the Eugene Police Department, the CAHOOTS program takes an estimated 5% to 8% of 911 calls away from police.
There have been numerous incidents of police showing up to mental health checks that result in a Black man or woman’s death at the hands of police.
Last year, Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, was suffering from a mental episode after ingesting PCP and walking naked in the streets. Police discovered Prude and held him face down on the pavement for more than two minutes. He died the night of March 23.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.