Jason Barker is an advocate for Safe Access New Mexico, an Affiliate of Americans For Safe Access and also an advocate for Elevate the Spectrum Inc. Mr. Barker is also a freelance writer for Cannabis News Journal and he is a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. Mr. Baker’s work has focused in the past on medical cannabis issues, decriminalization of cannabis, hemp policy and does not work on legalization of cannabis for non-medical purposes or other illicit drug issues. Mr. Barker is not paid or employed in the medical cannabis industry nor does he have any financial interest in the medical cannabis industry or in a future recreational cannabis industry.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this guest opinion column written by Jason Barker are those of Mr. Barker and do not necessarily reflect those of the www.petedinelli.com blog. Mr. Baker has not been paid any compensation to publish the guest column and has given his consent to publish on www.PeteDinelli.com
Following is the guest column written by Mr. Baker was submitted to this blog for publication:
“A Plan To Make ABQ Community Safety Department A Success And Make The City Safer”
The City of Albuquerque has a unique opportunity before itself in the creation of a new Community Safety Department, to launch a new program that will divert some 911 calls to paramedics and mental health experts, rather than police.
Mayor Tim Keller announced the creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department at a press conference on June 15th 2020, going on to say how Albuquerque would be the first city in the US to create such a program for the community.
Mayor Keller said the new department will serve as a civilian public safety branch to dispatch trained professionals to non-violent 911 calls. For example, the department would respond to calls involving mental health, addiction and homelessness – instead of armed police officers. Further saying this would not reduce resources for the chronically understaffed Albuquerque Police Department.
“We’ve placed more and more issues on the plates of officers who are not trained – despite their best efforts and despite some training – they’re not totally trained to be a social worker, or to be an addiction counselor, or to deal with things around child abuse when they’re just answering a call,” Keller said at the press conference according to KOB 4.
The first sentence above from the Mayor is very important to remember as we see how the City creates this new Community Safety Department.
The City of Albuquerque website (CABQ.gov) says, “the Albuquerque Community Safety department (ACS) will dispatch first responders to 911 calls with or without other first responders from the police and fire departments. Community Safety responders may have backgrounds as social workers, peer to peer support, clinicians, counselors, or similar fields”.
The City of Albuquerque has also quietly put up a survey online that started on August 13 2020 to hear from you and the community about the role ACS should play in the City’s emergency response efforts. This means what ACS should look like and what types of issues the community feels comfortable having ACS respond to.
Survey in English: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ABQACS
Survey in Spanish: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ACSespanol
Unfortunately for Albuquerque’s Mayor Tim Keller, we are not the first in the US to create a community program that would respond to calls involving mental health, addiction and homelessness. And this is a very good thing because we can stop ourselves from being the first to do it wrong since we now have other programs to look at to see what they did to create a successful program instead of trying to reinvent the wheel as the City appears to be doing with this new City Department.
In late summer after months of planning, Mayor Keller provided Albuquerque’s City Council his plan for the new Community Safety department. A plan he promised that will change how the city placed more and more issues on the plates of officers who are not trained to respond to calls involving mental health, addiction and homelessness.
Mayor Keller’s plan he presented as the blueprint for the new Community Safety department includes;
Forty transit security officers, and 13 security staffers from the Municipal Development Department.
Nine parking enforcement workers.
Six crossing guard supervisors.
An employee from the city’s syringe clean-up program.
Yes, you did read that correctly and that is really what Mayor Keller came up with to respond to 911 calls involving mental health, addiction and homelessness.
Now let’s take a look at how two other cities are providing these same community safety services and doing so successfully, first in Eugene and then in Denver.
In Eugene, Oregon, there is a program called Crisis Assistance Helping Out in The Streets or CAHOOTS which is a collaboration between local police and a community service called the White Bird Clinic that’s been around for more than 30 years. The COHOOTS program currently handles about 20% of the calls to 911.
In 2019, out of a total of about 24,000 calls, they only had to call police for back up 150 times. So taking from the Eugene model, in their 30 years of existence, less than 1% of the time they have had to call police because the situation has escalated to need that kind of support.
The CAHOOTS teams in the field are composed of a medic certified as EMT-B or higher and a Crisis Intervention Worker with very extensive training. Each team responds in an Ambulance type of van tailored to fit the programs needs when responding.
When a program like this is created properly it can be very successful and safe.
If you call 911 to report somebody trespassing or shouting at people on the street, you might expect police officers to respond. In Denver, you might get a different response – a paramedic and a mental health expert. It’s called Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, and the idea is to send more appropriate responses to 911 calls that have to do with substance abuse, mental health crises or people who just need help connecting to services.
The STAR service is a mobile crisis intervention in which a van carrying a mental health clinician and a paramedic is dispatched to provide free medical care, first aid, or mental health support for a broad range of non-criminal emergencies such as drug overdoses, suicidal individuals, mental illness problems, intoxication, and more.
The STAR service is dispatched through Denver’s 911 communications center, and it is intended to divert these types of calls away from police officers and toward mental health and medical professionals. The new initiative is modeled on the Crisis Assistance Helping Out in The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon which has been staffed and managed by local social service agency White Bird Clinic since 1989.
The City of Albuquerque clearly needs to restructure it’s plan for our city’s Community Safety department (ACS) as Mayor Keller promised something completely different in June, than what he provided the City Council.
A Plan For Success and Community Safety:
Here is an example of how the Albuquerque Community Safety department (ACS) program should be structured to fulfill its goals for our community:
Albuquerque Support Team Assisted Response (ASTAR) Program:
• Two (2) Clinicians to oversee the program
• (review CAHOOTS and Denver STAR to determine proper staffing) Utilize Social Workers to to handle incoming response calls
• Two (2) response teams to start: Each team has one (1) Ambulance type of vehicle, 1 driver, 1 mental health clinician, and 1 paramedic (with an active response being coordinated by the social worker and overseen by one of the 2 clinicians).
Response Team’s Main Focus: mental health emergencies, drug overdoses, homelessness and/or requests for a welfare check.
There is already $1 million set aside for its operation.
How is each response team safe on each call?
Make the driver position an off duty member of law enforcement who can only be directed to an on scene response by the clinician overseeing the active call with the social worker (only if the mental health clinician and the paramedic become endangered). Each team could also use body cameras with a live video feed to command center and driver in the team van too.
Create community partnerships and financial support to support the new program from:
City of Albuquerque’s Substance Use Treatment Provider Network
City of Albuquerque’s Mental Health Provider Network
City of Albuquerque’s Homeless Services Network
Conduct a six-month trial phase with 2 response teams and then determine how many more STAR response teams are needed for a program to be effective in its duty to the community and to be providing preventive measures too.
Learn who represents you on the Albuquerque City Council and email them your idea’s, thoughts, concerns about the ACS and this article if you like my plan for success.
Find Your Councilor Here: http://www.cabq.gov/council/find-your-councilor
Jason Morris Barker
Safe Access New Mexico Organizer
You can contact Jason Barker at these Email addresses:
BELOW ARE LINKS TO RELATED ARTICLES:
Albuquerque concept based on:
CAHOOTS Program / Whitebird Clinic
The STAR Van Offers an Alternative to Police
Caring for Denver’s STAR van sends a paramedic and clinician to non-criminal 911 calls. The goal is to avoid unnecessary officer involvement—and to find gaps in Denver’s support systems.
Call police for a woman who is changing clothes in an alley? A new program in Denver sends mental health professionals instead.
The program leads to better outcomes and saves police officers’ time www.denverpost.com/2020/09/06/denver-star-program-mental-health-police
City Invites Public to Help Shape Role of New Albuquerque Community Safety Department
Newly proposed department light on mental health pros