Guest Author: Ben Gibbons
I have been researching the mistreatment of people with disabilities by law enforcement officials, which is a prevalent but largely unnoticed phenomenon. Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the Ethan Saylor Alliance, which seeks to train self-advocates to in turn train police officers on more sensitive treatment of people with disabilities. While it is important to develop more effective training procedures for police officers, emphasis should also be placed on developing community alternatives to law enforcement when it comes to assisting people with disabilities who may be in crisis.
I had a chance to exchange emails with Tim Black of the White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon. The White Bird Clinic administers a program called CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets), which could serve as a model for community services nationwide. The Clinic, which was established in 1970, provided mobile crisis response since its inception. In 1989, the CAHOOTS program was established in collaboration with the Eugene Police Department. To access the program, a citizen in the area has only to call the non-emergency police hotline and a van is dispatched to the scene. The key aspect of the program is its independence form law enforcement; the team that reports to the scene is composed of crisis counselors and medics. Therefore, people in crisis and their families or friends need not worry about unnecessary arrest or commitment.
The program’s close alliance with—but also independence from—the police department is, in my opinion, its strongest aspect. Eugene patrol officers often refer people to the service for future reference, and the program also advertises itself to community services. Black said that the Clinic and the CAHOOTS program have a large amount of recognition in the Eugene community, partially due to the vans themselves, which he called “billboards on wheels.” The program is so successful that it doubled in size in 2011 and also received a grant to expand to the area surrounding Eugene. Unfortunately, programs like CAHOOTS are rare. This is something that should change in the future; the establishment of similar programs would benefit both law enforcement and people with disabilities. Learn more about the CAHOOTS program and White Bird Clinic at http://whitebirdclinic.org/cahoots-faq/.