It was hard to miss the demands for police reform in 2020.

The ripple effect of the post–George Floyd media coverage served to drive dialogue about what form that change should take.

Three cities’ police departments have been meeting these demands in their own way to increase their accountability and effectiveness.

Leading the Way—San Francisco

San Francisco is undergoing one of the most aggressive police reforms in decades by partially benching the police and dispatching fire and health department workers for substance abuse, behavioral, and psychiatric calls.

Twenty-five percent of calls received by San Francisco police concern “disruptive behavior” and are considered non-violent psychiatric behavioral calls.  

That percentage doesn’t include 911 calls involving homeless issues which would push the total of non-violent calls even higher.

“They’re [police] handling these calls the best they can, but the fact remains that because of the traditional system, which is in place out of inertia, you have law enforcement officers responding to nonviolent, noncriminal calls for service for people whose needs are largely social, behavioral or mental,” San Francisco Fire Chief Simon Pang told NPR last fall.

“The time is now to rethink the process so that we can get personnel who are better suited to help people,” he added.

That’s not to say the officers of the San Francisco Police Department are sitting on their hands. On the contrary, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team Work Group task force. The purpose of the task force is to create new training and guidelines for officers on how to de-escalate incidents involving the mentally ill.

As of October 2019, 1,144 officers, or 49% of the department, had completed 40 hours of training and program trainers also taught the course to more than a dozen interested outside groups.

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Thirty Years and Counting—Eugene, Oregon

Thirty years ago, Eugene, Oregon, pioneered a model program in conjunction with a city-funded health clinic that is still active today. The program is called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS).

Based on the idea of using “co-responders” on 911 calls, CAHOOTS is a mobile crisis intervention team administered by the White Bird Clinic. Its responders work to minimize the chance of violence by dispatching social workers and medics in non-violent situations. Callers contact them through a local emergency response system and teams are dispatched by Eugene PD and Springfield PD.

The CAHOOTS crisis managers are trained on how to de-escalate crisis situations and issues involving mental illness; suicide prevention and intervention; conflict resolution and mediation; and first aid and non-emergency medical care.

In a June 2020 interview on NPR, CAHOOTS responders discussed the program’s success as an alternative to police being used in every 911 situation.

In the interview it was revealed that the intervention team fielded slightly over 20% of calls in the Eugene/Springfield area, and out of 24,000 calls in 2019, police backup was required only 150 times.

“The tools that I carry are my training,” said crisis worker Ebony Morgan. “I carry my de-escalation training, my crisis training, and a knowledge of our local resources and how to appropriately apply them. I don’t have any weapons, and I’ve never found that I needed them.”

Another perk to the Oregon program is the cost savings to taxpayers.

Program coordinator Ben Brubaker estimated CAHOOTS provided $15 million in cost savings responding to calls that otherwise would have had to be handled by police or Emergency Medical Services.

In the wake of last summer’s civil unrest in several cities, CAHOOTS says it has fielded calls from across the country from others wanting to replicate the program in their communities, including larger cities like Portland and Denver.

Ahead of the Curve—New Orleans

New Orleans has made substantive progress on police reform since 2012 thanks to a training course called Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC). All New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers enrolled in the mandatory course learn how to de-escalate encounters with civilians.

“This is the bedrock of our constitutional policing philosophy and our department’s culture,” said New Orleans Superintendent of Police Shaun Ferguson in a streamed interview on Facebook last summer reported by CBS affiliate 4WWL-TV.

NOPD has implemented several major reforms after a tragic police shooting of two unarmed men—including one who was mentally disabled—which occurred six days after the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.

Ferguson said the department banned chokeholds and strangleholds in 2015. It has also banned shooting at moving vehicles and established firm guidelines on the use of force.

The department’s EPIC training also teaches a culture of peer accountability, asserting that it is every individual officer’s duty to intervene.

“In New Orleans, we’re all ahead of the curve,” he said. “We require all force to be reported. We require a warning before shooting whenever possible, and we also require that we exhaust all other alternatives before use of force.”

Ferguson says those reforms have paid off with better relationships between NOPD and civilians, historically lower homicide rates, and a reduction in violent crime overall.

“We are committed to constitutional policing, we are committed to training, and last but definitely not least, we are committed to improving protection for our community and holding ourselves accountable,” he said. “This is what our community, as well as our country, is asking for, and that is why it is so important that we hold fast to effective police reforms.”

Solutions, Not Slogans

These are just three examples of departments dealing with the change management that goes along with reform. There are scores more working hard to “bend the curve” in order to regain the trust and cooperation of the communities they serve. But the common theme behind these initiatives is the need for new or increased training.

Without the proper systems to deliver training and ensure personnel have the right training for a call, these reforms become much more difficult.

Proven software solutions can help departments track officers’ progress on completing courses and certifications as they learn new skills and adapt to different expectations in the law enforcement environment.

Moreover, compliance and training software designed specifically for public safety can help:

Such solutions are integral to adapting to the current calls for more transparency, accountability, and better monitoring and certification processes.

The Acadis® Readiness Suite is the most comprehensive public safety training and compliance software platform for officer performance management, use-of-force reports and cases, decertification, and analytics, and is trusted by more than 2 million public safety professionals and 10,000 agencies. Learn more about the training capabilities of Acadis.

Posted on Mar 23, 2021