Chances are 911 is the first phone number you memorized, but now a group in Oakland wants people to dial a different number when there’s a mental health crisis or a substance abuse emergency.
It’s a non-police emergency hotline manned by trained volunteers who want to offer an alternative to people who don’t trust police.
It won’t be dispatch picking up your call, but one of 12 trained mental health experts.
“We have to stop having law enforcement being the answer to every social ill,” said Cat Brooks, cofounder of Anti-Police Terror Project. “Professional EMTS, professional RNS, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists,”
The national call to defund police departments picked up steam last year after a number of controversial police killings, like the death of George Floyd. But this phone line doesn’t take resources away from police.
Brooks says this gives communities of color another option to get help, one that doesn’t involve an officer with a gun.
“Often the combination of mental health crisis, being black or brown and law enforcement is a deadly cocktail for people in our community,” said Brooks.
But unlike 911, this hotline isn’t available 24/7. It’s only staffed Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.. Brooks says because of the pandemic, volunteers aren’t responding to emergencies in-person, with the exception of some cases. For now, it’s another voice on the line, providing advice and counsel, until all volunteers can get vaccinated.
“Ultimately our dream is to be up seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Brooks.
Annette Jones of Oakland saw the billboard while waiting for a bus and already saved the number to her phone.
“Mental health is a big factor because we deal with issues of that in our family,” she said. “That’s a good thing to have in case of an emergency.”
NBC Bay Area reached out to Oakland police for their take on this hotline. A spokesperson said this is the first time they’re hearing of this non-police crisis number and they’re reaching out to the Anti-Police Terror Project to learn more about the hotline.