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Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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Finance Committee moves crisis response team pilot forward

Madison's Finance Committee cast a unanimous vote Monday to implement a pilot program that will designate crisis response teams that will respond to certain behavioral and mental health emergencies instead of the MPD. 

The program involves two-person teams — a paramedic and a crisis worker, both trained in de-escalation and harm-reduction techniques — respond to certain mental and behavioral health emergency calls instead of police officers. 

The program is scheduled to begin on June 1st and the Madison Fire Department is currently in the process of hiring two paramedics who will staff the first crisis response teams. 

The city of Madison receives approximately 7,000 emergency calls annually, roughly 20 per day, regarding mental health emergencies, according to mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway's office, which also noted that it takes responders three times longer to address calls regarding behavioral health.

Rhodes-Conway, who included the program as a major part of the city’s 2021 budget, voiced her support for the use of crisis response teams, saying in a public statement that a police response to non-violent mental health crisis is often unnecessary.

“An armed officer is not always the best response to every emergency call,” Rhodes Conway stated. “Only a small portion of these calls involve a person who is a danger to themselves or others. This leaves a lot of room for an alternative response team.”

Madison's crisis response program mirrors the systems implemented by some other cities such as Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS program which Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway praised in a public statement earlier this year.

Rhodes-Conway also voiced support for the use of crisis response teams earlier this year where she praised the city of Eugene Oregon’s CAHOOTS program which has served as the inspiration for Madison’s crisis response teams.

“The [CAHOOTS] model delivers better outcomes for callers and provides an added benefit of lifting calls off the police, freeing them to deal with more high-risk issues and saving taxpayers and health care systems a lot of money along the way,” Rhodes Conway wrote in a public statement. 

The program will be a collaborative effort between City and County officials, as well as Journey Mental Health, a community mental health clinic in Dane County. Additionally, officials have made a formal agreement between Journey Mental Health and the city confirming the city’s involvement and financial responsibilities. The Common Council will have to vote on these measures, which are set to last five years.

The mayor's chief of staff, Mary Bottari voiced her concern that the program may be delayed due to the additional partnerships involved in establishing the community response teams.

“I’m fairly confident that the city side is going to be ready with all the things we need, but there are partners here that we’re relying on,” Bottari stated during last Monday’s meeting. 

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Rhodes-Conway sees a need for various forms of police reform and views the crisis response teams as “the early stages of a long and reflective process of re-imagining public safety.”

 “We are being intentional about bringing local leaders in racial equity, mental health and community alternatives to policing.” 

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