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Emergency response alternatives draw panel’s attention

Evanston aldermen tonight will look at alternatives to having police respond to some 911 calls as defund activists call for sharp cuts to law enforcement funding.

Cahoots staffers head to their van in an image from the Cahoots website.

Evanston’s Human Services Committee tonight is scheduled to consider whether to include in next year’s budget an alternative to having police respond to 911 calls that involve mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

The committee is expected to review programs recently implemented in Olympia, Washington, and Denver, Colorado, as well as a pioneering program in Eugene, Oregon, called Cahoots, that’s been on the committee’s radar previously.

Olympia, Washington’s state capitol city, has nearly 53,000 residents, and is spending $550,000 a year from a voter-approved tax levy to have a crisis response unit on call from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

The Olympia program, like the one in Eugene, is staffed with nurses or EMTs and social workers.

Some Defund Police activists in Evanston are calling for a 75% reduction in the city’s $41 million police budget, and just adding program like the one in Olympia would be unlikely to satisfy their demands.

Denver’s program was funded by a voter-approved ballot initiative in 2018 and is just getting started as a six-month pilot project at a cost of more than $200,000. It serves a small portion of the city and operates only from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Eugene, a city of over 172,000 residents, spends over $1 million a year to provide 24/7 coverage, including having a second van on the street at peak hours.

The committee’s virtual meeting is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

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