Santa Rosa approves contracts for mental health emergency response program

Santa Rosa’s City Council Tuesday night unveiled the name and logo for its highly anticipated mental health emergency response team and approved contracts with two local nonprofits, some of its final steps toward soft-launching the program in December.

Called inRESPONSE, the program was first introduced a year ago. It will be modeled after the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets unit, or CAHOOTS, in Eugene, Oregon.

“We saw local and national demand to re-imagine policing in our communities and are proud to say that the city of Santa Rosa heard these calls for change and has responded,” Santa Rosa Police Department Capt. John Cregan told council members.

The goal, Cregan said, is that inRESPONSE will prevent emergencies or potential crimes by “getting people the services they need before they go into crisis.”

Begun in 1989 by the White Bird Clinic, CAHOOTS has been lauded as an innovative approach to replace armed police officers with trained social workers in responding to non-criminal, mental health-related emergencies. Over the past year, Cregan said, Santa Rosa has worked with White Bird to design a local version of the program.

The plans for inRESPONSE are an “improved” model to CAHOOTS, he added. It will send licensed, rather than non-licensed, mental health clinicians and a fire department paramedic, instead of a lesser-trained emergency medical technician, to calls for medical or psychological help.

InRESPONSE will also include a homeless outreach specialist and holistic wraparound support service provider. The latter will follow up with those who call for help and help them navigate local behavioral health systems.

With an initial $1.1 million awarded by the city to the program, inRESPONSE will begin operating at 10 hours a day, every day. In the coming years, the program will expand to be 24/7.

It will specifically handle calls to 911 for behavioral health issues, welfare checks, potential suicide, intoxication, delivering death notifications, transportation requests and assisting with housing. Calls for these issues will be diverted directly to the inRESPONSE team.

Cregan expected that, with the eventual implementation of a 24/7 service, the program would handle more than 5,000 911 calls a year and free up police officers for more urgent criminal emergencies. Santa Rosa’s Police Department just announced it would be scaling back its responses to non-criminal, non-violent and non-emergency calls due in part to “understaffing,” according to spokesman Sgt. Chris Mahurin.

Cregan also hoped that the service would decrease the number of people who end up in county jail by providing them support that responds to root issues, through shelter, medical care or behavioral health support, rather than arresting and jailing them on suspicion of low-level charges.

The name of the program was decided through community feedback, Cregan said.

The mental health workers will travel in a large white van with the new logo emblazoned on the side. The logo, as well as the team’s proposed uniform, were specifically designed to be as different as possible from police and fire department markers.

“The graphic, I think, does a really great job of visually demonstrating the care that we will be providing to the community,” said Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Subcommittee.

“They don’t have some of the triggers that we heard from our community. Community members fear the (police) uniform or someone armed with a gun,” Cregan said. “People are going to feel much more comfortable not only with the enhanced level of education from this team, but even the look of their vehicle and uniforms.”

The fear of police was a main impetus for the program, said Fleming, a licensed clinical social worker.

“It can’t be underestimated the cost to our individuals and families that is formed by a fear of law enforcement,” she said. “It’s such a big deal to have this be the new face of crisis response for the city, because what it means is that for every individual and family who’s in crisis and fearful of the fallout of police intervention, they now have an alternative to not seeking out care.”

Following Cregan’s presentation, the council OK’d proposals to enter into three-year no-bid contracts with two community nonprofits, Buckelew Programs and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Buckelew will provide the wraparound case management services, as well as administrative support. Catholic Charities will help with unhoused community outreach.

Generally, the city holds a competitive bidding process for any outside contract; the council waived that requirement because of the urgency of mental health issues in Santa Rosa.

After three years, the city will evaluate the efficacy of the inRESPONSE program and open a competitive bidding process for future contracts.

With the passage of the two resolutions, the program is weeks away from its soft start. Cregan said the department is assessing additional funding sources, like private donors and county, state and federal grants, to cover the expected yearly $2.3 million cost of implementing inRESPONSE 24/7.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @vv1lder.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat  

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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