.Letter to the Editor: A Much-Needed Police Reform


Since the killing of George Floyd, there has been a national outcry for alternatives to police for nonviolent emergency calls modeled after Eugene, Oregon’s nationally acclaimed CAHOOTS MCIS—Mobile Crisis in the Streets—program. Working both on the street and in-home, serving wealthy and poor equally, teams of a highly trained medic and social worker skillfully address nonviolent calls related to houselessness, substance abuse, suicide prevention, and interpersonal conflicts. Services provided include crisis de-escalation, medical evaluation and non-emergency treatment, conflict mediation, welfare checks, and transportation to other services. Bypassing jail cells, emergency rooms, and ambulance runs saves cities and counties millions while minimizing personal trauma.

For well over a year, our Santa Cruz community has been stridently advocating to implement a CAHOOTS-model public safety program in Santa Cruz County, and a local petition demanding a CAHOOTS model for Santa Cruz has been signed by over 600 community members.

For several years, formal reports, studies, and public statements have spotlighted the glaring need to reform our Santa Cruz public safety system, while both Chief Mills and Chief Honda have made statements expressing dismay at being forced to service mental illness and homelessness calls. 

In 2020, the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury Report on Homelessness recommended establishing a county-wide program modeled after CAHOOTS, citing that such a program “would be beneficial to those receiving its services, as well as the County’s law enforcement and medical personnel.”

The Feds have been quick to respond to the public demand for a non-law enforcement alternative for crisis calls, with federal funding set in motion in March when President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Response Plan Act known as the Covid Relief Bill, designating $1 billion over the next 10 years for states to develop CAHOOTS stye programs. Beginning in 2022, communities with such programs will be eligible to be reimbursed by Medicaid for up to 85% of their service costs! 

County budget hearings are in progress, and nearly 19% of the County’s proposed budget is designated for public safety, with $87 million—more than half the allotment—going to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office. The proposed budgets reflect a $2 million increase in funds for the sheriff’s department, as well as the loudly opposed $1.3 million increase for Watsonville Police—funds that could more than cover the @ $1.5 million to implement a cost-saving county-wide CAHOOTS pilot program.

Let’s add Santa Cruz County to the growing list of California communities currently implementing the CAHOOTS model! Santa Cruz can and should take advantage of this opportunity to join the national movement to re-design public safety in anticipation of 2022 federal funds. Tell your supervisor and council member to allot $3 million of public safety funding to implement 2 24/7 mobile vans for a year-long CAHOOTS pilot program, reducing costs and trauma. And sign and share the Re-imagining Public Safety petition http://tinyurl.com/y387pmmh.

Sheila Carrillo | Santa Cruz

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