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WEB EXCLUSIVE At a city council meeting this afternoon, Raleigh police chief Cassandra Deck-Brown introduced a proposal to form a new unit within the police department called ACORNS, aimed at assisting residents dealing with homelessness and mental health issues. The unit, an acronym for Addressing Crises through Outreach, Referrals, Networking, and Service, has the mission “to connect with individuals in crisis and provide them with the resources needed to meet their individual goals,” according to a Powerpoint document presented to the council.
During the meeting, the police chief elaborated on the purpose of the new unit, explaining that it has been in the works for Raleigh since before the racial unrest that occurred nationally following George Floyd’s killing and even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that has been compounding issues of homelessness in cities across the country. In devising the unit, police officials studied programs across the country, including CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, that work to address homelessness and mental health issues. Ultimately, Deck-Brown says, the unit’s goal is to collaborate with local community stakeholders, including nonprofits, faith-based groups, social workers, healthcare workers, criminal justice reform advocates and others already working to address homelessness and mental health issues in Raleigh.
“This team is designed to understand the need to foster growth, patience, relationships and understanding while recognizing the process itself can take time,” Deck-Brown told the council. “With this approach, the ACORNS team can assist individuals with growing together, standing strong and collectively weathering the storm.”
ACORNS would use a variety of methods to assist residents in crisis, according to Deck-Brown, including outreach, education, on-call field services, investigation and intervention. For instance, trained social workers could soon accompany law enforcement officers in responding to calls. The ACORNS team would be comprised of a supervising sergeant, a detective, three social workers and three law enforcement officers.
The unit, funded through the police department, has already garnered opposition among activists advocating for police reform who say any mental health services the city provides should be separate from the police department.
“It has been estimated that people suffering from mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by police officers due to first responders being unaware of their condition,” said activist and former mayoral candidate Zainab Baloch in a public comment at this afternoon’s meeting prior to Deck-Brown’s presentation. “The police should not respond to any mental health situations.”
Council member Jonathan Melton said he would like to see more social workers added to the team, while Council member David Cox said he thinks the Raleigh community would like to see a program where mental health responders and social workers operate in partnership with police officers but, ultimately, act independently from the police department. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin called ACORNS a “first step” and said she looks forward to learning more.
See slides from the Deck-Brown’s presentation to the council here.
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