This week Council heard the first high level report about alternative response systems in public safety and reviewed the Sister Cities program. Although these are very different issues with widely different impacts on City policy and budget, returning to these ongoing concerns felt like a calm return to normal after the past few weeks.
Monday’s work session featured a presentation by Michele Weinzetl, the project manager from Berry Dunn consultants, on her initial review of the City’s existing alternative response system. This begins with CAHOOTS, the most familiar and long standing of our alternative responders. The 2021 recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policies affirmed the importance to the community of a strong alternative response system. Undertaking this analysis is a direct response to that recommendation.
Weinzetl explained that this assessment and recommendations will come in four phases, the first of which is a review of CAHOOTS as a model, its effectiveness, and the challenges it faces. The following phases of the work include a complete service review and a system assessment followed by recommendations.
The goal is for the City to most effectively match resources with needs, reducing the use of police when they are not appropriate, and targeting our responses. This is not restricted to mental health responses. The city has an array of alternative responses including Community Service Officers, Neighborhood Service Officers, Outreach Teams, Park and Downtown Ambassadors, and Resource Officers.
The consultants conducted 70 interviews, 25 related to CAHOOTS and 50 related to the other teams. Weinzetl offered a few broad observations about the existing network:
- The city could do a better job of targeting our resources;
- Simply adding non-sworn personnel is not enough;
- CAHOOTs is a very good model but it is overextended;
- Data collection by both the city and CAHOOTS is inadequate.
The next phase of the report with more data and detail is scheduled to come to council on November 16th.
On Wednesday, Council had a chance to review our Sister Cities programs. This work session is a follow up to the discussion and decision to suspend our program with Irkutsk in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At that time, councilors expressed in interest in adding new Sister Cities.
Besides Irkutsk, which became our Sister City in 1988 at the instigation of advocates in Eugene, we are Sister City to Jinju, South Korea since 1961; Kathmandu, Nepal since 1975; and Kakegawa, Japan since 1979. Those three cities all initiated the invitation to form a relationship.
There are various models for these relationships. In Eugene’s case, the city provides an annual budget, currently $10,000, to local nonprofit chapters who manage the programs. Each program is slightly different. In general, they include some form visitor exchange. In recent, the City has not consistently sent any official delegations. Most recently, Councilor Yeh visited Jinju in 2018; Mayor Piercy made several trips accompanied by Councilors during her first term, 2004-2008, but the recession in 2009 resulted in a 10-year hiatus. Prior to the pandemic, I regularly received delegations from each of the cities and attended their events. Some of that activity is now thankfully returning.
While several councilors are eager to increase the number of cities, there was general consensus that budget and staff constraints preclude expansion now. At the same time, councilors discussed ways in which these programs might have a higher profile without adding cost of significant staffing needs. The local chapters were engaged in the OR 22 World Athletics Championships, and have since suggested a directional signpost showing the miles to each of the cities. I am hopeful that we can gradually enhance our role and encouraged councilors to join me in more of these activities.
As a closing note, we hosted Peter DeFazio on Tuesday evening with a celebration honoring his 36 years of service in Congress. It is hard to imagine what our community would be like without his investment. He has ensured that our airport has adequate runway lighting for poor weather landings; ensured federal funding to renovate the Ferry Street Bridge; acquired funding for our pilot project to preserve the West Eugene wetlands; and most recently successfully advocated for funding for the improvements to Franklin Boulevard. He has been logged countless airplane miles commuting to DC. It will be great to see him around this community that is so deeply grateful for his work.