Crisis response programs should implement processes for community oversight to facilitate accountability and ensure that programs continue to meet the needs of the community members they aim to serve. Approaches to community oversight can build on the principles and practices for community collaboration.

Key recommendations

  • Establish mechanisms for ongoing feedback and accountability
  • Attend to ongoing community advocacy

Establish mechanisms for ongoing feedback and accountability

To be effective, oversight mechanisms for crisis response programs should have some decision-making authority and not simply be advisory.159 Legal scholar and researcher Taleed El-Sabawi explained that crisis response programs should learn from the experience of police accountability boards: “usually, these [police accountability] boards don't work well because they don't have enough teeth.”160 Along with her colleague Jennifer J. Carroll, El-Sabawi has recommended that advisory boards for crisis response programs should have the power to approve the program’s implementation (such as its staffing model, dispatch protocols, and data collection and reporting plans) and the distribution of funds for the program.161

Community oversight boards should be active and ongoing participants in program implementation, and they should have the funding, resources, and support necessary to be effective in the community engagement, oversight, and advocacy they are tasked with.162

Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program was launched as a one-year pilot in June 2020.163 As part of the city-wide expansion plans, the city announced it would form a volunteer-based Community Advisory Committee to “bring a community lens to the STAR program.”164 However, Vinnie Cervantes, organizing director of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR), believed the city’s approach fell short. DASHR and other advocates, who have stressed that “community ownership” rather than community oversight is the ultimate goal, envisioned an advisory committee that would have an ongoing role in monitoring the implementation of STAR, reviewing program data, and informing plans for expansion.165 Instead, Cervantes explained, the city made decisions about STAR’s expansion before establishing the advisory committee and did not provide them with timely updates or opportunities for input and decision-making.166 Excluding oversight boards from expansion planning risks sowing distrust with community partners.

Programs should also be intentional in the composition of the oversight boards they establish. El-Sabawi and Carroll recommend that advisory boards for crisis response programs should be comprised of “at least 51% behavioral healthcare consumers, persons who have experienced or are experiencing houselessness, members of local immigrant communities, sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, and racial or ethnic minorities.”167 “We really encourage that the board reflect the composition of the community,” El-Sabawi explained.168 In New York City, the Correct Crisis Intervention Today (CCIT) coalition’s proposal for a peer-driven mental health crisis response program was aligned with this recommendation. The proposal stipulated that the pilot should be monitored by an oversight board with peers from low-income Black, Latinx, and other communities of color, constituting more than half of the board.169

Attend to ongoing community advocacy

Crisis response programs should be responsive to community advocacy efforts to improve the accessibility and quality of services offered. This may be particularly critical in communities where formalized opportunities are limited or under resourced.

For example, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, advocates from the Treatment Not Trauma Coalition explained how their relationships with supportive city councilmembers have facilitated their participation in advisory groups, committees, and other spaces where city leaders are making decisions about crisis response services.170 Coalition members shared that, at times, city leadership focuses more on communicating updates than on creating opportunities for input and decision-making; however, coalition members are committed to having a “seat at the table” and continuing to advocate for their vision of crisis response for Philadelphia, asking hard questions and keeping city stakeholders accountable.171

Community advocacy can also help improve the effectiveness of more formalized community collaboration and oversight. In California, county mental health providers have been legally required to facilitate and fund stakeholder-driven planning processes since 2004.172 However, community members report that Los Angeles County’s stakeholder committees have not always been effective, open spaces and that only recently has the county started to take their feedback into account in meaningful ways. Daniela Hernández Chong Cuy, a Los Angeles-based mental health advocate, explained that this new receptiveness was partly due to “pressure from community-based organizations,” outside of the formal county committees.173