Raleigh police hope program geared toward mental health can help keep crime down in city

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – During the pandemic and in the wake of the civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, the Raleigh Police Department began developing a program that helps connect people in crisis with services they may need.

ACORNS stands for Addressing Crises through Outreach, referrals, Networking, and Service. The program will include police officers and social workers who respond to appropriate calls. Its approach is described as “care and safety first, enforcement last.”

“Mental health, a lot of the things the police department deals with, involves somebody suffering a crisis,” said Deputy Police Chief Scott Oosterhoudt. “It may not seem on the surface to a complainant that the person they’re calling about is suffering a mental health crisis, and it may not immediately seem that obvious to the police officer.”

According to the police department, responses by the ACORNS team are done with “kindness, compassion, equity, (and) cultural competency.” Furthermore, the ACORNS team manages cases by helping people identify their needs and goals and helps create care plans. It also keeps up with progress.

“If we can divert somebody to a service that can help get them out of the service or away from something that’s causing the crisis, that helps us because then there may not be a repeatable situation,” Oosterhoudt said.

“Arresting somebody for a mental health reason is not always the best answer for that and it doesn’t help solve a future issue of the same sort. You’ve heard people say that we can’t arrest ourselves out of certain problems. A mental health crisis is not something that we can arrest ourselves out of.”

The hope is that the ACORNS program will play a role in keeping crime down in Raleigh after the COVID-19 pandemic saw many metrics decline. Overall, there was a 13 percent decrease in incident reports filed between March 17, 2020, and March 17, 2021.

According to Raleigh police spokesperson Laura Hourigan, the department posted three social worker positions for the ACORNS program. She said the response has been overwhelming and the department hopes to have the positions filled soon.

“We are using many of the lessons learned from benchmarking other agencies around the country to determine the best resources and ensure they are a proper fit as we work to acquire the necessary resources to carry out the mission of ACORNS,” Hourigan wrote in an email.

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