Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland
What is MACRO?
Oaklanders make over 2000 emergency calls each day, but not every 911 call requires a police response.
For many quality-of-life situations, Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) can offer a more appropriate response.
The pilot program for MACRO is intended to demonstrate that sending local community members
who have been trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation can:
● Provide more appropriate responses to calls that don’t involve serious crime or violence.
● Limit community engagement with police.
● Redirect police and fire resources to public safety priorities.
Needs for help that MACRO could respond to include: dispute resolution, non-emergency medical
care, transportation to services, and problems related to homelessness, intoxication, disorientation,
substance abuse, and mental illness. Common calls include: sleeping person, aggressive panhandler, screaming person, drunk person, welfare check, disorderly person, disoriented subject, disturbing the peace, person refuses to leave premises, person in traffic, family/neighbor dispute.
What are some key goals of MACRO?
Response model developed by community & established by City Council:
● OPD dispatches calls that do not involve violence or a serious crime to MACRO.
● 24/7 MACRO vans respond with well-trained Emergency Community Responders and EMTs
who use de-escalation and a trauma-informed response.
● Participation with MACRO is voluntary.
● MACRO offers transportation and connection to referrals and resources, if appropriate.
Key changes for the Oakland model:
● Hire responders with deep knowledge of the communities they serve.
● Minimize barriers to employment to enable hiring people who have been impacted by
policing, the criminal justice system, or mental health challenges.
● Pay responders well. Work continues to have value when it is shifted from police officers to
members of impacted Oakland communities. Creating a pay range that reflects the
challenging work ensures success by recruitment of talented applicants and low turnover.
What are the next steps for MACRO?
As the city begins the steps towards implementation, community voices must be further engaged. Questions still being considered include: What neighborhoods beyond East Oakland could the pilot serve? How can residents serve their own neighborhoods? How can MACRO create excellent employment opportunities so responders can thrive in Oakland, while serving Oakland? How can we remove any delays to implementation so MACRO can begin taking calls?
Who started MACRO?
In July 2019, City Councilmembers Gallo and Kaplan, the Police Commission, Faith in Action East Bay, the Urban Strategies Council, and the Coalition for Police Accountability sponsored a presentation by CAHOOTS, a 30-year mobile intervention team in Eugene, Oregon where EMTs and crisis workers respond to 17% of 911 calls instead of police and fire.
The Oakland City Council then commissioned a report on creating a pilot project in Oakland to begin in July 2020.
The Urban Strategies Council researched response models, interviewed stakeholders, organized
community roundtables, conducted participatory community research, and analyzed data, to ensure
the development of a model that reflects Oakland’s unique needs, resources, and neighborhoods. Read the resulting report here.
In July 2020, the council approved $1.8M for two pilots in East and West Oakland overseen by
the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP). In November 2020, DVP solicited non-profit proposals
to implement the pilot for 18 months. The contract was finalized in February 2021 when it was determined that MACRO would be piloted from within the Oakland Fire Department.
Why not have a separate number so residents don’t have to call 911?
The first goal of the pilot is to demonstrate that police can be displaced from responding to some emergency calls. Once the project is established, there is strong support for adding a separate phone number, either by expanding an existing hotline (311 is currently 24 hour, multi-lingual) or creating a new number. We know some residents will still call 911, so both options should be available. The majority of 911 calls come from residents in heavily policed neighborhoods, who overwhelmingly support a non-police
response for calls without underlying serious crime or violence.
Why doesn’t MACRO use social workers or mental health professionals?
MACRO is designed to respond to types of emergency calls that do not use the qualifications of health care professionals and licensed clinicians. MACRO teams will not diagnose, medicate, or create long-term care plans. Their work—to de-escalate a crisis, work with the person in crisis to identify the best way to assist
them, and offer connection to services (including professional clinicians)—does not require or
benefit from advanced degrees and clinical licenses. MACRO has clinical supervision to ensure
appropriate protocols, oversight, and staff support.
Programs often have difficulty recruiting and retaining professional clinicians. Mental health
professionals typically don’t reflect the communities they serve, which can compound residents’
distrust because of prior negative experiences with clinicians. Usually, programs with professional
clinicians focus on responding to calls for serious mental health crises, and assess for involuntary
hospitalization. In Oakland, all clinician-based programs respond to calls with police officers.
How does MACRO differ from other mental health responder programs?
MACRO civilianizes the response to emergency calls that do not require a police officer, a much broader range than solely those identified as mental health calls. The three Alameda County programs which provide a clinical response in Oakland to serious mental health crises (such as assessing for involuntary
hospitalization) should separately be strengthened and expanded. MACRO responds to different
types of calls, which are currently being answered by police officers, without police.
Is it safe to respond without police?
Other emergency response programs show that it is safe to respond without police. As the Eugene, Oregon teams, who have never had a serious injury in over 30 years, say: “people are in crisis, not dangerous.” Proven measures include safety training for teams and protocols to help dispatchers identify appropriate calls that do not indicate potential danger. MACRO teams will carry police radios to communicate with dispatch. In Eugene, teams calling police to a scene for any reason is extremely rare (0.6%).
Will MACRO create additional liability for the city?
Police officers currently respond to calls with limited training, few options for resolution, and sometimes create liabilities. Legal analysis finds that if responders function within their scope, there is no additional liability. San Francisco has a program already in place that responds to some calls without police or a professional clinician.
How will calls be selected for MACRO?
Working with OPD, OFD, MACRO, and Dispatch, the city will create a protocol for dispatchers to identify the types and elements of appropriate calls. Dispatchers will look at the specific elements of each call rather than assigning calls based on generic codes or names. There will be continued review to fine-tune call selection.