Creating a Compassionate Alternative to 911

I grew up in Palo Alto and graduated from Gunn High School in 2008. When I was 15, I was accepted into the Palo Alto Police Department’s first student police academy and then became police explorer upon graduation. Over the next 6 years I volunteered with the Palo Alto police department in a many capacities. Through hundreds of hours of riding along with the police I got a deep understanding of law enforcement infrastructure. I saw numerous people challenged by homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse who were caught in the revolving door of the criminal justice/emergency medical system. A year after aging out of the explorers program I lost a former high school friend to suicide.

When I was 23 I did a ride along with ‘CAHOOTS,’ (crisis assistance helping out on the streets) an organization that does civilian crisis response in Eugene, OR. CAHOOTS provides special care to people who are stuck in the revolving door and through its intervention, break the cycle. CAHOOTS provides alternatives to incarceration and hospitalization for people with wellness issues. This ride along catalyzed me and my buddy Doug creating  ‘Concrn’ a company that builds mobile apps and software to assist compassionate response communications infrastructure.

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color:#414141’>We are now a compassionate social service network that connects people in need to responders trained in crisis de-escalation. We offer an alternative to 911 for non-violent crises and respond using the harm reduction model. Concerned citizens can download our mobile app on iPhone or Android or call us directly to access our services. We make it easy for both witnesses and victims of nonviolent crises to create a report and directly dispatch our network.

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color:#414141’>We believe that this “Compassionate Response” model is more humane, harm-reducing, and cost-effective than a law enforcement approach to non-violent crises. Our coordinated teams of responders help connect individuals challenged by homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse, to the resources they need. These resources include local mental health, physical health, and shelter services. In addition, our ongoing case management program encourages clients to maintain their connection to these support services by promoting clients’ sense of self-worth through alternative methods like art and music collaboration.

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Training communities

Hi @concrn, welcome! I’m Noemi, and my own cases of irrelevant (at best) or aggravating (at worst) situations appearing in connection to system brutality are listed here.

I like your solution - training communities to compassionately respond to their own crises before police get involved.  How do you do it? Is it through your own example or do you have activities to teach citizens that?

In Bucharest there is a long time organisation working with drug addicts and sex workers on the streets, and they are so hung up in the very basic aid of providing IDs for these people or getting them into the social security state service provision, that they can’t really do anything else, that’s how hands on and exhausting that task is. And while they could need help, it’s very time consuming to train others how to deal with people on this dramatic edge - because of the emotional investment and very specific set of skills needed.

They do, however find new ways of helping those in need, but incipient - car wash social businesses, or a social restaurant providing some jobs. Anyway, titanic work!

Hi Noemi,

We lead by example as well as train the community members to become responders. Feel free to call with more questions! I’d love to chat 415-881-8278


Hi @concrn,

This is really intriguing. I’m based in NYC, and one of my main organizing activities here is with a local Cop Watch team. The movement has been getting a bit more press for the past handful years due to sensationalist news cycles and I genuine growth of grassroots teams popping up around the country.

My team is around 6 years old, and our main activities are consistent “patrols” in which we film all police encounters with the public if we happen upon them, and the vast majority is handing out “Know Your Rights” fliers in a couple different languages depending on the neighbor make we are in that night.

Cop Watch is a form of community self defense, in which one goal is to raise the level of awareness in the community about their rights and options which encountering the police, and leveraging the ubiquity of digital cameras so that people everywhere can record police, not just to catch misconduct or brutality, but because it’s perfectly legal to film.

That being said, with the past 3 years, we have been hitting a wall in terms of the limits of our efficacy, because in our consistent patrolling, we often come across instances in the community that don’t involve police but require some sort of intervention, whether it means homelessness, interpersonal or mass violence, injury, public intoxication etc etc. I guess we are coming post-“Who Watches the Watchmen” phase, where we are asking ourselves, what is our role? Is it just to enable people to operate within legal frameworks? or should the hours and energy we expend week after week be do towards visions of a world where legal frameworks are obsolete? (very lofty) What are the practical steps before then.

One of the first programs we are implementing is a rapid response network, right now it’s just through a big texting group of people who have opted in, which in itself presents severe scaling issues, which in turn, limits it’s usefulness. We don’t really have the expertise to design an app since most of our team aren’t programmers. Our hope with this was to intervene before the state got involved in community affairs. I would be curious about your app, company, and business model, and maybe we can do something in New York, since we have like 6 cop watch teams around the city.