Ultimately, we chose to call the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. They informed us that while they do not provide emergency dispatch themselves, the Chapel Hill Police Department does employ four crisis counselors that can accompany armed police officers upon request. By the time we had gotten off the phone with OCRCC, it had become clear that there was no emergency. However, our research made clear that when we call for in-person emergency support at UNC, a weapon will always be present.
This means that there are students on this campus, like us, who will hesitate or refuse to call the police in emergency situations. Regardless of whether students personally trust the police, if they find themselves in a dangerous situation, the hesitation of others may put them at risk of not getting help. This lack of trust and hesitation is a detriment to our collective safety.
Though we do not know the exact solution to this issue, we do know of other cities that have implemented unarmed options and saved millions of dollars per year as a result.
Take Eugene, Oregon (home to the University of Oregon), for example: their 31-year-old CAHOOTS program, which responds to 17% of 911 calls, dispatches a pair of unarmed personnel, highly trained in de-escalation and psychological crisis response. CAHOOTS clinic coordinator Ben Brubaker estimates the program saves the city of Eugene $15 million a year.
In the past week, we have already been in contact with UNC Police, attended a roundtable discussion for the Chapel Hill Community Policing Advisory Committee and begun analyzing the allocation of funds within police systems in Chapel Hill and across the nation. We hope that UNC will step up to create this change — change that facilitates trust and provides options that support the entire UNC community, creating a safe campus for all students.
Sadie Cheston-Harris, Class of 2024
Alli Reilly, Class of 2024