Rohnert Park green lights launch of mobile crisis response unit
Rohnert Park has given the city’s public safety department the go ahead to launch a new mobile crisis response unit that will send mental health workers to specific nonviolent calls, instead of police officers.
The program, which City Council approved unanimously in a 5-0 vote July 13, is one of several set to begin operation in Sonoma County.
The inclusion and creation of these kinds of units are in direct response to demands for changes in the way public safety officials handle social service calls made by protesters after the killing of George Floyd, according to Rohnert Park Public Safety Department Director Tim Mattos.
“We’re not sending the right people to these mental health type calls,” he said. “We needed to step back, reflect and ask ourselves, ‘How can we prevent these calls from ending badly?’”
Mattos added that he wants to launch the program in two to three months.
The effort mirrors the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program, which was developed in Eugene, Oregon about 30 years ago.
Sonoma County officials have already been working with other cities in the region, including Santa Rosa and Petaluma, that have expressed interest in launching civilian mobile crisis teams modeled on the program, which dispatches teams of medics and trained mental health workers to urgent calls for medical or psychological aid.
Ben Adam Climer, a former CAHOOTS crisis intervention worker and emergency medical technician, is Petaluma’s crisis consultant and began working with Rohnert Park in May to develop its unit.
Based on an assessment on Rohnert Park dispatch records from 2019 through 2020, Climer said the unit could respond to over 3,500 mental health, nonviolent and social service calls per year in Rohnert Park.
“The unit will offer support to someone who is trying to get a hold of their missing uncle, a person having trouble with their kids, or even notifying families that their loved ones have passed away,” he said. “This program will allow for a softer approach to these sort of nonviolent calls.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department began developing its crisis response unit last summer in the wake of nationwide and local protests decrying racial inequality and police brutality following Floyd’s murder. The unit is expected to go into effect in October.
Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Christopher Mahurin said the unit “is a need.”
“Law enforcement receives minimal training for mental health. By sending out clinicians that can aid in mental health issues more effectively, we’re putting the right people in the right place,” he said.
Climer is training Petaluma and Rohnert Park dispatchers on how to handle these specific calls. Petaluma People Services Center, a nonprofit that offers human service programs to prevent issues like homelessness and unemployment, will assist Rohnert Park in developing its unit.
Steps include drafting and developing an agreement with Petaluma People Services Center, purchasing a vehicle, finding office space for staff and identifying program costs.
The Rohnert Park unit is expected to cost about $1.3 million for its first year.
In May, Rohnert Park City Council set aside $1 million to pay for the program. It's among several items city leaders declared a priority for 2021, Mayor Gerard Guidice said.
“Rohnert Park is making great strides in addressing homelessness in our community. It’s one in a growing tool box of resources that Rohnert Park is requiring regarding homelessness,” he said. “It speaks to my heart.”
The Public Safety Department is looking at federal and state funding to offset program costs. Mattos added that the city may request Sonoma County to contribute a portion of Measure O Mental Health Sales Tax funds.
Measure O was passed last year to boost local spending on mental health and homelessness services every year by $25 million.
Speaking before council during the July 13 meeting, Rohnert Park community members, such as Julie Royes, praised the response crisis unit.
“My first love and partner of 4 ½ years took his own life. If a program like this existed back then, he would be celebrating his 40th birthday today,” Royes said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at email@example.com or 707-521-5220. On Twitter @searchingformya.