Harry and Oprah support alternative to police for mental health crisis response in new Apple TV show


Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey have praised the work of a Eugene, Oregon group that responded to mental health calls with “ concern ” rather than armed agents.

CAHOOTS has been running in the city for 31 years, responding to about 24,000 non-criminal emergency calls per year, it says. The program is managed by the White Bird Clinic and funded from the city’s police budget.

In the final episode of their new Apple TV show The Me You Don’t See, in which Harry, Oprah and others discuss their mental health issues, the host and the former royal family highlighted CAHOOTS.

‘Wow, I love that, I think CAHOOTS is great … it is so powerful,’ said Harry, after a short clip showing the work of the program dealing with people suffering from mental crises, drug abuse and homelessness.

Oprah introduced the clip by saying that ‘many cities’ can learn from the CAHOOTS approach.

“For some cities in the United States, it appears that the mental health of homeless people is already in a humanitarian crisis and we see a growing demand to move armed police away from dealing with mental crises,” she said.

Prince Harry (left) and Oprah Winfrey (right) have praised the work of an Eugene, Oregon group who responded to mental health calls with

Prince Harry (left) and Oprah Winfrey (right) have praised the work of an Eugene, Oregon group who responded to mental health calls with “care” rather than armed agents, discussing the CAHOOT program with Dr. Nadine. Burke Harris, the Surgeon General of California (center), on their Apple TV show

A member of CAHOOTS – which stands for crisis assistance on the street – explained in the short film how the group’s emergency services workers differ from those of the police.

Law enforcement should not play a role in responding to someone who is having a bad day. The police don’t want to be a mental health worker, ”he said.

‘Our teams are unarmed, we don’t appear in police uniforms. We don’t have a pepper spray with us, we don’t have a taser. We do not have those escalation tools with us, which is why we are forced to really rely on our people skills. ‘

Each team consists of a mental health worker and an EMT, with emergency response centers assessing whether callers who fail to report a crime or violence could benefit from the assistance of CAHOOTS.

In 2019, teams responded to 24,000 calls and required police support 150 times.

“We operate as a public safety industry and respond to all kinds of crises, can be medical, can be drug abuse, can be mental health,” said a CAHOOTS employee on the Apple TV show.

“The idea is that there is an alternative for people in addition to the police and fire brigade and we are going to treat these situations with empathy instead of judgment and anger and frustration,” explains another.

There is growing interest in tackling CAHOOTS as police forces in the US and elsewhere are accused of cracking down on mental health emergencies.

The program and its supporters say it not only reduces confrontation but also saves money and frees police officers to focus on law enforcement.

According to the White Bird Clinic website, the budget for CAHOOTS is about $ 2.1 million per year and the combined annual budgets for the Eugene and Springfield police departments are $ 90 million.

It said the CAHOOTS teams answered 17 percent of Eugene Police’s total phone volume in 2017. The program saves the city an estimated $ 8.5 million in public safety spending annually, according to the White Bird Clinic website.

Dr.  Harris said she believed CAHOOTS was 'a better use of our public dollars' when it came to responding to mental health crises

Dr. Harris said she believed CAHOOTS was ‘a better use of our public dollars’ when it came to responding to mental health crises

The City of Eugene’s website states that “the city has increased funding for the program in recent years” to add more hours of duty.

Last year, Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner described the police’s relationship with CAHOOTS as ‘symbiotic’.

‘When they show up, they are more successful than police officers. We wear a uniform, a gun, a badge – it feels very demonstrative for someone in crisis, ‘he said CNN.

‘We try to reach people and let them know that there is still a community that wants to help. That’s our direct contact with people with bad days, ” said a CAHOOTS employee, adding that he believed there was a need “ across the country ” for an alternative to the police force in responding to mental health crises.

After the clip, Oprah asked guest Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Surgeon General of California, what she thought of the program.

‘I think it’s an incredibly important model, the idea that people in crisis are treated with care rather than law enforcement.

“I think it is a better use of our public dollars, our public resources, and there is really a policy momentum to move this forward across the country,” she said.

Dr. Harris pointed to the CAHOOTS Act, a bill currently under consideration that would allow states to adopt mobile crisis response teams that could be deployed “ when a person is experiencing a mental health or substance use (SUD) crisis rather than immediately involving the police, ”said a press release.

Funding would be provided through an increased federal match rate for the state’s Medicaid programs, it said.

Arguments against the police response to mental health crises usually revolve around expertise, as officers are trained to use force if they believe the public or themselves are in danger.

Mental health advocates say this is not the ideal attitude when meeting someone who is in crisis and who may be behaving erratically or aggressively.

In some cases, the results can be fatal, with one analysis of police shootings in 2015/16 suggesting that a quarter of the deaths showed signs of mental illness. In other cases, someone in need of medical treatment may end up in a cell.

“ We can recognize a person walking down the street naked, yelling ‘I’m going to kill everyone’ – but he has no guns – that’s probably some kind of call for mental health or substance abuse, ” one of the CAHOOTS employees said in the Apple TV show.