Oakland leaders push to start 'urgently needed' MACRO program, create oversight

Elected leaders are urging for the city of Oakland to launch the new emergency civilian responder program, known as MACRO, in a "speedy" fashion, while also asking for strong community input and oversight when it actually takes off. 

In a statement, Rebecca Kaplan, Nikki Bas, Noel Gallo and Sheng Thao said getting this program up and running is "highly awaited and urgently needed." Councilman Dan Kalb has also openly expressed support for this program. 

The MACRO program was first conceived in 2019, but gained more traction after the death of George Floyd in May 2020, when cities across the country began looking for non-police responses to the majority of 911 calls. 

After some delays and changes, the civilian-response program will now run out of the Oakland Fire Department. The program was originally supposed to have started in January. 

MACRO stands for Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland.  

However, in an update to the city's Public Safety Committee, which meets on Tuesday, Fire Chief Reginald Freeman said the "very optimistic hope" is for the program to be on the street in early November 2021 and as late as February 2022. 

MORE: Oakland OK's pilot program where crisis unit would respond to some 911 calls instead of police

Freeman said the city’s ability to hire and train the MACRO employees will be a key determinate in the official launch date for the pilot program. 

So far, Freeman said that the fire department has received 36 applications, of which 18 people have met the minimum qualifications. Interviews were held last week. Staff positions include EMTS, Community Intervention Specialists, nurses, dispatchers and one public information officer. 

In addition to city funding of $4.5 million for the year 2022-23, state Sen. Nancy Skinner secured an additional $10 million for the launch of the program.

The program will kick off part time in East and West Oakland neighborhoods, although the goal is to eventually expand the service throughout the city 24/7. 

At this point, there is nothing in the formal agenda about having a community oversight board monitor MACRO. But advocates in the city and from the Anti-Police Terror Project are urging for that to happen. They are urging members of the public to call in and voice support for including a community advisory committee as part of the program. 

MACRO is one of several programs that have started to respond to non-violent, emergency calls instead of sending police officers. The first such program was CAHOOTS in Euguene, Ore., and since then, there have been efforts in Olympia, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

San Francisco began a pilot of the Street Crisis Response Team in November. It's a partnership with the the San Francisco Fire Department, the Department of Health and the Department of Emergency Management. The San Francisco police department also assists in transferring the 911 calls to this team. 

Some community groups are not happy with the current city proposal, however.

Rashidah Grinage and Anne Janks, members of the Coalition for Police Accountability, wrote a letter to the city saying they feel with the influx of funds, Oakland is now looking to "squander" a large portion of it on expensive consultants, specifically, the Jeweld Legacy Group, at the expense of starting the run the program on a full-time basis.

For example, their analysis shows that about 40% of the proposed personnel costs aren't people who are actually doing the core function of responding in the field to emergencies. 

Both point out that this is not what the city council originally voted to fund.

Grinage called this version an "overblown model," which is the result of "ill-informed consultants trying to keep their expensive contracts." 

Janks added that she feels what's going on with the MACRO problem is "more insidious. It sets the pilot up to fail or be too expensive to expand."

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez.