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A closer look at Oakland’s alternative police response unit

February 21, 2023

OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) – The City of Oakland’s non-police response program, MACRO, has helped thousands of Oakland residents, but there are questions regarding the number of 911 dispatch calls for MACRO left unanswered.

MACRO, which stands for Mobile Assistant Community Responders of Oakland, is approaching its one-year anniversary in April. Although the city’s community response program for nonviolent, non-emergency 911 calls is still a work in progress, MACRO spokesperson Michael Hunt says, “the upside has been huge.”

Hunt says in the early stages of the pilot program, MACRO made nearly 10,000 contacts with people.

“Many of these between April and August of 2022 were done in an on-view capacity, meaning we had crews out in the field for upwards of 16 hours a day driving into and through areas where vulnerable populations were typically gathering and then responding to referral requests,” Hunt said.

MACRO units are based within the Oakland Fire Department. The program’s intended outcomes include:

  • Redirection of MACRO-identified 911 calls to an alternative community response system.

  • Reduce Oakland Police Department & Oakland Fire Department expenses and call volume related to 911 nonviolent calls involving people with behavioral health, substance use, and unsheltered individuals.

Nonviolent 911 calls to Oakland dispatch began transferring to MACRO last September. Between then and the end of 2022, of MACRO’s 854 contacts with the public, roughly 3%, or around 26 calls, involved 911 dispatch. The Coalition for Police Accountability played a fundamental role in getting the funding from the city council to launch the pilot program.

“The numbers speak for themselves. Not satisfactory,” Rashida Grinage with the Coalition for Police Accountability said about the program’s early returns.

The president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, Barry Donelan, supports MACRO’s intended goals and offered three solutions to help the program reach them.

“One: take the calls that they promised to take from the police department. Number two: provide a telephone number for the residents to call MACRO. We accept the fact that they are some residents who don’t want to call the police department. Finally, let’s have the public safety committee on the city council evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of this program,” he said.

Oakland City Councilmember Treva Reid sits on the public safety committee and agrees that the program needs some evaluation.

“I’ve also called for a bi-monthly update on the MACRO program’s operations and the advisory board,” she said.

Supporters and critics both say they want to see MACRO become a successful alternative to police response for nonviolent calls for service.

A closer look at Oakland’s alternative police response unit
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