The misleadingly named “Defund the Police” movement implies dramatic cuts in police, or even the complete abolition of police, in response to reports of abusive behavior.

What many reformers are actually proposing is not abolishing police, but removing from the list of police responsibilities services for which they are not trained, which are better handled elsewhere and which sometimes even police do not want. This would also entail transferring funds for those activities from the police to other entities.

One excellent example of such a model is the HOME Team at the nonprofit Milestone Recovery.

Standing for “Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement,” the HOME Team is a group of specially trained outreach workers who roam the streets of Portland, going to places where homeless people with drug or alcohol addiction problems spend their time.

Milestone Recovery’s HOME Team, shown in 2016 trying to revive a passed-out homeless man, shows the potential benefits of transferring funds from police to other entities. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The HOME Team began its work in 2010 in response to a noticeable community need: Dealing with individuals who, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, were creating problems for the public was a role for which police and emergency medical technician services were not necessarily well suited, which detracted from other work that makes higher use of their skills and which was costing the citizens a lot of money unnecessarily.

The HOME Team travels downtown Portland 12 hours a day, six days a week. When they encounter people with drug or alcohol problems, or behavioral problems related to drug or alcohol use or abuse, they provide referral and transportation to community resources, such as substance use treatment programs, health care providers or shelter services, including Milestone’s own substance use shelter.

When Portland’s businesses have non-emergency problems with people under the influence, they have learned to call Milestone instead of the police, and the HOME Team responds by working compassionately with the individual to resolve the problem.

Likewise, the Portland Police Department itself, when it receives such calls, frequently dispatches the HOME Team instead of an officer. The HOME Team works not just by removing the person, but also by helping that person redirect behavior and access needed support.

The business community in Portland likes the HOME Team because it is nonconfrontational and effective.

Police and EMT services in Portland like the HOME Team because the HOME Team handles calls that are outside their professional skill set.

And city government likes the HOME Team for the reasons noted above, and because the HOME Team saves the city and its citizens money by reducing costly emergency transports to local hospitals.

And the individuals who the HOME Team serves like them because the HOME Team treats them like human beings who have needs, and helps them to address those needs. The HOME Team is on a first-name basis with hundreds of people in the homeless community. They are seen as allies, as people to trust, something I learned when, as board president at Milestone, I did a ride-along, joining them on their rounds for an afternoon.

During my ride-along, I witnessed acts of kindness by the HOME Team that I found deeply touching. We did a circuit of some of the places where homeless people are encamped around the city, checking on the well-being of people, and on this occasion, distributing an armload of bags of bread.

For most, the Defund the Police movement is about taking a fresh look at police work, and making decisions to relocate pieces of it outside of the police framework, and into the hands of community organizations that can do it better.

Like Milestone Recovery’s HOME Team.


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