Prince Harry, Oprah Winfrey throw support behind alternative policing to mental health incidents

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Prince Harry and his closest confidant Oprah Winfrey are throwing their support behind a tax-payer-funded alternative policing effort in Oregon that has been in operation for over three decades. It responds to mental health situations with an element of “care” instead of armed police presumably leaving law enforcement to more pertinent duties.

The recently-minted creative pair made their praise known for Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) in their new AppleTV series “The Me You Can’t See” during a segment centered on the organization in Eugene, Oregon that responds to non-criminal and non-lethal calls related to mental health and substance abuse incidents.

Harry raved of the “strong” work on the part of CAHOOTS, which in 2019 responded to some 24,000 calls to the rate only 150 of those required back-up from police.

According to the organization’s website, the program is budgeted at approximately $2.1 million annually, with Eugene and Springfield police stations totaling $90 million annually.

Oprah Winfrey famously interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in March.(Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)

Harry and Oprah’s public support come amid nationwide calls to “defund the police” as many argue the nation’s police forces aren’t properly trained to handle the types of situations CAHOOTS has been tasked with de-escalating since its inception.

In 2017, the CAHOOTS team said it responded to 17% of Eugene police’s overall call volume. 

The White Bird Clinic, which runs the program, maintains that CAHOOTS saves the city nearly $9 million in public security spending each year – funds that can be allocated to other areas of need for the city.

The city of Eugene’s website states that over the period of the “last several years” the city of Eugene has increased funding to the program “to add more hours of service” for its responders.

Winfrey pressed that “a lot of cities” could draw inspiration from the CAHOOTS approach to modern policing.

“For some cities in the United States it seems that mental health in the homeless population is already at a humanitarian crisis and we’ve seen a growing demand to move armed police away from handling mental health crises,” she said. 

“Wow, I love that, I think CAHOOTS is great… it’s so powerful,” Harry gushed when he learned of the program’s work.

In a video explaining the functions of CAHOOTS responders versus that of armed law enforcement, a member of the organization said police should have “no part in responding to someone that’s having a bad day,” adding, “Police don’t want to be mental health workers.”

“Our teams are unarmed, we’re not showing up in police uniforms,” the member explained. “We don’t carry pepper spray, we don’t carry a taser. We don’t have those means of escalation with us and so we’re forced to really rely on our people skills.”

Prince Harry and his closest confidant Oprah Winfrey are throwing their support behind a tax-payer-funded alternative policing effort in Oregon.
(AP/Getty)

Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner had previously described the police force’s relationship with CAHOOTS as “symbiotic” and maintained that when CAHOOTS arrives at the scene of a call, “they have better success than police officers do” since police officers donning “a uniform, a gun, a badge,” can often feel “very demonstrative for someone in crisis.”

Each responding team is comprised of a mental health worker and an EMT, with 911 dispatchers assessing whether callers not reporting a crime or violence could benefit from CAHOOTS’ assistance. 

Winfrey asked guest Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Surgeon General of California, her thoughts on CAHOOTS and the service it provides citizens and taxpayers.

“I think it is an incredibly important model, the idea of people who are in crisis being responded to with care as opposed to with law enforcement,” she said. “I think it’s a better use of our public dollars, our public resources, and there’s actually policy momentum to move this forward throughout the country.”

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