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Sunday, July 25, 2021
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ASM pushes for mental health Crisis Response Team on campus

The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) will vote on legislation Tuesday calling for a Crisis Response Team to respond to all mental health related 911 calls on campus. If passed, the legislation will create a placeholder in the ASM internal budget as the student government moves to find funds for the team.

ASM believes that a Crisis Response team will be better equipped than the police to respond to emergencies related to mental health. According to ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick, the kinds of calls that 911 might direct to the Crisis Response Team include calls about panic attacks, suicide, hyperventilation and even erratic behavior in the university dorms. 

“Those who arrive on scene would deescalate, they would resolve the issues on scene, and it just wouldn't require the triggering effects of sitting in a police car, being transported to their facility and having an officer with a gun show up,” Mitnick said. 

The new legislation takes inspiration from CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets) — a program that was implemented in Eugene, OR in 1989 to respond to 911 calls for mental health or homelessness related issues. Madison recently implemented a task force modeled after CAHOOTS that ASM is open to joining forces with. 

“[CAHOOTS] is a way to have a non law enforcement response to mental health related 911 calls,” Mitnick said. “Statistically, a ton of calls, especially on campus, are mental health related, and really police have no business responding to them. They've proven empirically that they aren't capable. That was really our inspiration for this legislation and we're hoping to do something very similar on campus.”

According to ASM leaders, the Madison Fire Department has estimated to the body that 9 out of every 10 calls to the UWPD pertain to mental health.

Representatives hope the new team will reduce the role of UWPD, which the legislation says has a “long history of abuse and racism,” in mental health calls. In order to better serve the BIPOC community at the UW, the Crisis Response Team would be staffed with mental health professionals who would have received training in bias and diversity. 

“By having people respond to calls with this specific training, with these credentials, with the proven ability to accurately generate a response towards equity and that is different than the norm, we feel that the Crisis Response Team would be more equipped to respond to calls, and wouldn’t perpetuate what modern police systems naturally do,” Mitnick said. 

After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, protests against police brutality erupted across the country — including in Madison at the state capitol. Madison police requested mutual aid from UWPD, and the events which transpired are reported with great detail in the legislation. 

The legislation includes various examples of UWPD responses to protests this summer, as well as details of their spending over the course of recent months. Expenditures include the purchasing of handguns and pepper spray during the beginning of protests this past summer. Several of these examples, included in the legislation, support the need for a Crisis Response Team, while other examples are meant to illustrate the lack of confidence that many students have in the university police as a result of these purchases. 

According to Mitnick, UWPD behavior necessitates the Crisis Response Team because there is no mutual trust between the UWPD and the students they are intended to serve.  

“We document the protest behavior, the stocking up of weapons, to demonstrate the lack of trust that students on this campus have in UWPD, and why we feel that it would not be appropriate for them to respond to calls if this is how they responded to their own students demonstrating for racial justice,” Mitnick said.

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UWPD responses to this summer’s protests, as well as unwillingness from UWPD to stop using certain police measures — inclusive of stop and frisks and the act of shooting at moving vehicles — are why ASM held a vote of no confidence in the UWPD last September. 

“Because they've demonstrated that unwillingness to change, to reform, to reflect, this is kind of what's made this Crisis Response Team necessary,” Mitnick said. “They're not even really willing to work with us at this point, or work with their students most importantly.”

UW released a statement on Friday announcing a collaboration between University Health Services (UHS), UWPD, University Housing and the Dean of Students Office to provide improved mental health services on campus and better handle mental health related emergencies. However, Mitnick believes that this plan is not comprehensive enough, and that the Crisis Response Team, outlined in the new ASM legislation, is the best way the UW can serve its students in times of mental health related emergencies.

“They're not committing to having non-law enforcement responses, they're just saying they want to have increased collaboration,” Mitnick said. “But we're really saying we need to take it a step further. And if we're really true to equity, we're really true to these values, and towards listening to students who are having these experiences, we need to design a model in which we just reimagine the entire system.”

ASM will vote on this legislation at their meeting Tuesday night. If passed, it will create a placeholder in their internal budget. This will be discussed at the Feb. 9 student governance meeting and decided upon at the Feb. 23 meeting. 

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