Community Crisis Response Program Update

Community Crisis Response Program Update

Richmond’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force (Task Force) held a Community Conversation on Community Crisis Response on Dec. 15, 2021. The video can be found here.

Members of the Community Crisis Response Implementation Team participated in the discussion:

  • - Task Force members Kristin Kilian-Lobos and Marcus Njissang
  • - LaShonda White, Director of Community Services
  • - Fire Chief Angel Montoya
  • - Lt. Eric Smith, Richmond Police Department
  • - Sara Cantor, Community Member

There were upwards of 45 participants in the Community Conversation, 33 of whom engaged with a poll to gauge participant experience with the issues the Community Crisis Response Program seeks to address. 61% had personally experienced a mental health crisis or substance use challenges. 84% had supported a loved one through mental health or substance use challenges.

Fatal Force, a database on police shootings in the United States that is maintained by the Washington Post provides data on police shootings in the United States including factors such as race, gender, age, mental illness, and if the victim was in possession of a weapon. Inequities exist that correspond with multiple identity demographics, that is, non-black people of color and people with LGBTQ identities are also victims of excessive use of force and police murder at disproportionate rates. At the same time,  when comparing outcomes for white people and Black people the data is stark and alarming. Nationally, Black people are disproportionately killed by police— that rate of murder is more than twice that for white people. Mental illness is its own risk factor for police violence, approximately 25% of people killed by police were experiencing a mental or emotional crisis at the time of a shooting. The disproportionality holds for victims without a weapon and those experiencing a mental health crisis. Black men exhibiting signs of mental illness were at higher risk of police killing than white men exhibiting similar behaviors, including while unarmed.

Failures of our mental health care system have resulted in police crisis intervention being the dominant mode of response. Inadequate mental health services and implicit bias among police officers have resulted in this public health crisis also being an urgent racial justice issue. The data of who gets treatment and who is criminalized is highly racialized. 

The Task Force was formed in June 2020 to “transition from Richmond's current ‘community policing’ model to a plan conducive to the reduced police force”. The Task Force developed a set of recommendations, including the creation of a Community Crisis Response Program (CCRP) to provide non-law-enforcement response options for community members experiencing mental health or substance use crises. The program was designed and proposed by the Task Force’s Health and Safety subcommittee, and modeled after existing programs- CAHOOTS (Eugene, OR), MACRO (Oakland), and Mental Health First (Sacramento and Oakland). Many cities across the country are developing similar city-run programs, including our neighboring communities of Antioch and San Ramon. Richmond’s program was created to provide more options for Richmond residents, especially in light of the national crisis of suicide and substance use, and the potential dangers of law enforcement responses to mental health crises. Richmond City Council approved creation of the program, with an accompanying $1 million in initial funding in June 2021. At that time, an implementation team began meeting. The members listed above have also been meeting regularly with county staff to discuss opportunities for collaboration and they are developing partnerships with community-based organizations.

Richmond’s Community Crisis Response Team will provide in the moment support to Richmond residents, in person or via phone for mental health or substance use crises and acute trauma responses. The team will not provide case management services—ongoing care will be referred to other organizations. People will be able to access the program via 911 or a standalone phone number (TBD). The team will consist of 2 community response specialists: one with additional mental health training and experience, and one with lived experience of behavioral health crisis, a peer support role. The hiring team will prioritize candidates with deep connections to Richmond. Responses will be unique to each occurrence, but will include: listening to the person in crisis, assessing their physical, emotional, and mental needs, de-escalating conflict if needed, providing support and compassionate care and connecting the individual with additional resources. If requested, the team will work with police, or if there is an active threat of violence. If a 5150 (involuntary psychiatric hold) is needed, staff can call on county behavioral health specialists, rather than relying on RPD. The implementation team is being thoughtful about data collection and sharing practices. They will not share data with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Medical insurance will not be needed or gathered. Basic info will be collected for internal use, so a record of previous calls will be available. Non-identifying demographic information and outcomes will be shared with the broader community.

Team members will receive training that includes:

  •     Harm reduction
  •     Overdose interruption (Narcan)
  •     Basic first aid
  •     De-escalation skills
  •     Negotiation and motivational interviewing
  •     Trauma informed mental health
  •     Cultural competency focused on racial equity and Richmond context
  •     Local resources
  •     Liability or other relevant laws
  •     Self-care and secondary trauma

Task Force member Killian-Lobos moderated a panel of individuals with lived experiences of behavioral health crises. Aaron Williams, Mica Herrera, and De Wanda Joseph offered an intimate and rich discussion around their personal experiences. They shared specific ways they had been harmed by local law enforcement and the traumas of witnessing police officers hurt their loved ones and having their own lives derailed by experiencing criminalization at young ages. Each person reported a negative impact by other intervention systems, including child welfare and health care systems. They also shared things that were helpful to their healing, such as family and community support. They all emphasized the lack of accessible and timely mental health services and a local need for home, community, and school-based services. Given their extensive experiences, these panelists offered insight into the current systems. It was an illuminating demonstration of the possible power our community could flourish with Richmond’s Community Crisis Response Program.