Oakland shifting some police calls to new civilian team
on September 17, 2021
Oakland is preparing to launch an 18-month pilot program that will direct some 911 calls to a team of trained civilian responders rather than to the Police Department.
Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland will be run by the Fire Department on a limited basis, beginning later this year or early next year, depending on how quickly personnel can be hired and trained.
MACRO will respond to calls regarding such things as mental health crises and public intoxication, according to a report presented Tuesday at the Oakland Public Safety Committee meeting.
“We have seen tragic cases when armed police are sent to deal with people involving cases like mental health or homelessness that people end up dead ,” Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said Tuesday. “By providing civilian responders, we can save money and save lives.”
The program was approved by the City Council in March. It initially will operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, with three teams that each include an EMT and a case intervention specialist. In the pilot, two teams will focus on East Oakland and one on West Oakland.
“This is where most of our underserved community members are specifically located,” said Fire Division Manager Vena Sword-Ratliff.
Eventually, the program will expand citywide and be active around the clock, Sword-Ratliff said. The report noted that MACRO will grow to 43 full-time employees.
Several Oakland residents told the committee they were disappointed that the program would start with limited hours.
“The community has overwhelmingly said we need a 24/7 response,” Rashidah Grinage, a coordinator with the Coalition for Police Accountability, said at the meeting. “This report denies that.”
MACRO uses city and state money and has a projected budget of $8.5 million for fiscal year 2022-23, if fully staffed.
MACRO workers will come from Oakland. Melinda Drayton, the Fire Department’s deputy chief, said there are several candidates for the MACRO program manager position, all of whom are already “deeply embedded in the county and the city.” She said the teams will help dictate MACRO’s direction.
“They’ll be able to dig deep with the community and really raise this program up from the ground floor with their input,” she said.
Kaplan said MACRO would reduce the Police Department’s caseload, especially as the department struggles with attrition and focuses on violent crimes. The city saw a 12% increase in violent crimes as of Sept. 12, compared to the same period last year, with 86 homicides — a 39% jump.
The Anti Police-Terror Project wants the City Council to ensure that there’s a community oversight board for MACRO.
Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, which has a mental health crisis response program called MH First, said that with MACRO, Oakland can be a national leader on nonpolice emergency response.
“It’s not just important for Oakland but important for the country,” Brooks said.
MACRO is based on a program in Eugene, Oregon, called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, which diverts 5% to 8% of calls from the police, according to CAHOOTS’ website.
In 2019, Oakland City Council commissioned a study of such programs. The council unanimously voted to create the program in part because of the public debate about police misconduct and excessive use of force.
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