ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Allentown City Council received a presentation Wednesday night envisioning how social workers could assist Allentown Police Department officers in responding to calls.
The presentation involved two models based on the CAHOOTS program, developed in Eugene, Oregon, and a two-year pilot program launched by the Bensalem Police Department. The presentation originally took place March 3 and was replayed via video Wednesday night.
Oregon-based 'CAHOOTS' program
Ben Brubacker coordinates the Oregon-based White Bird Clinic, which has operated in the city of Eugene since its formation by late 1960s counterculture activists. CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, was developed as a manifestation of the clinic's mission in 1989.
"White Bird has long had a love of clever acronyms," Brubacker said.
The cleverness is based in a holistic theory. The theory espouses that the parts of a whole cannot exist or be understood except in relation to the whole.
As a result, 911 calls in the city of Eugene which are deemed to have a strong behavioral health component or judged to be seemingly devoid of an extreme violence component, go to Brubacker's department. A medic — often a nurse — and a crisis worker are dispatched.
On the scene, they assess the situation, if possible assist the person, and if warranted, transport the individual in question to the hospital, a shelter, or to the White Bird Clinic to receive medical and dental care, along with more intense counseling.
Social workers are mindful of their attire when responding to a call and dress casually, often in a T-shirt and jeans. They are unarmed and Brubacker said most calls do not require police intervention.
The social workers cannot force anyone to accept their offered treatment and do not have authority to place a subject under arrest. Their strategy is predicated on utilizing tactics such as empathy and rapport-building. If successful, they will establish trust between the two parties.
Bensalem's 'Human Service Co-Responders'
Frederick Harran, Bensalem Police Department's director of public safety, explained its recently enacted program called "Human Service Co-Responders," in which two social workers respond to specified calls with township police. The calls are related to issues including aging, mental health and substance abuse.
"Our program has only been operational since the week before Thanksgiving (2020)," Harran said.
Once on scene, the social workers discuss the individual's problems and, similar to the CAHOOTS program, connect them to more resources. The social workers' strategy is essentially the same as that in CAHOOTS: Relationship-building through verbal de-escalation techniques including talking.
In this model, police may initially respond to the call and then introduce the social worker, the duo may simultaneously respond, or the social worker may show up initially and the police later, Harran said. Unlike the CAHOOTS model, the calls are not 911 based. Social workers are equipped with police radios and bulletproof vests.