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Iowa City officials say they’re considering a crisis response program operating out of Oregon as a potential model for improving how first responders are dispatched to non-violent calls.

At public meetings over the past month, the Eugene program known by its acronym CAHOOTS has been suggested by the Iowa Freedom Riders, a local social justice group, and other community members as a model for restructuring Iowa City’s public safety system.

For example, instead of sending police officers to someone having suicidal thoughts, CAHOOTS staff, who are unarmed physical and mental health professionals, are sent to assess the individual’s needs.

Iowa City officials — including some of the city’s police officers — have expressed interest in increasing the involvement of mental health professionals in responding to concerns of someone experiencing a mental health crisis in the community. However, planning for how Iowa City might integrate such a model and what it could look like is still in the very early stages.

David Drustrup, a doctoral candidate in the University of Iowa’s counseling psychology program, has been a vocal supporter of a CAHOOTS-like model at each of the city’s listening posts, a series of events that brought dozens of community members, city staff and elected officials together in city parks over the last month to exchange ideas about how the city might restructure its police department.

David Drustrup, a University of Iowa doctoral candidate in the counseling psychology program, speaks during an Iowa City City Council Listening Post on community policing, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, at Mercer Park in Iowa City, Iowa.

David Drustrup, a University of Iowa doctoral candidate in the counseling psychology program, speaks during an Iowa City City Council Listening Post on community policing, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, at Mercer Park in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Speaking as a supporter of the Iowa Freedom Riders at the last of six listening posts on Thursday, he asked Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague where the city was in its consideration of the CAHOOTS model. The Press-Citizen had asked the mayor the same question earlier in the week.

MORE: Iowa City Community Police Review Board finds just 4.5% of complaints against cops valid

“We know that it’s a model that’s being looked at by lots of people in the community, but it’s not the only model,” Teague told Drustrup. “It’s not to say that it’s not a model we shouldn’t do — or should do. As a council, we have to have a discussion and move forward.”

He added the Iowa City City Council gave city staff until Dec. 15 to propose a preliminary plan for restructuring the police department toward community policing.

More on CAHOOTS

Run by a local health center in Eugene, Oregon, CAHOOTS — or, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets — is a team of health workers providing care to people in crises involving mental health, homelessness and substance use.

The health center, White Bird Clinic, opened in 1969 and launched CAHOOTS in 1989. The program is funded by the city of Eugene through a contract between the police department and CAHOOTS.

The program coordinates the response of a