County Grant Program to Provide For Mental Health Professionals to Accompany Law Enforcement

taser.jpgIf the Yolo County Board of Supervisors approves the agreement at today’s meeting, Yolo County would become the first in the state to take advantage of SB 82, the Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013, and fund services that would lead to clinical staff accompanying law enforcement responding to mental health crises in Yolo County.

The agreement calls for $2.1 million for Turning Point Community Programs to provide community-based crisis response services to Yolo County residents coming into contact with law enforcement while experiencing a psychiatric crisis for the period July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. The grant covers the full cost of the program and there is not expected to be any general fund impact.

“During the County’s recent Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Community Program Planning process, community stakeholders, including hospital and community-based mental health providers, as well as law enforcement officers, expressed a need for a County-wide mobile mental health crisis response system,” the county staff report said. “Stakeholders expressed a need for clinical intervention at the point of crisis and follow-up support to engage each individual in regular on-going services.”

The Vanguard has been calling for such programs since the Taser death in 2008 of Ricardo Abrahams, who had checked into the Safe Harbor, part of the Yolo Community Care Continuum, upon the urging of his family due to a condition where he was increasingly disoriented, stressed and uncommunicative.

At some point he left the facility. Concerned about his well-being, the facility alerted the police. When the police arrived, a confrontation ensued where Mr. Abrahams’ anxiety escalated to the point where police feared for his safety and their safety.

Although all he had was a pencil, he was repeatedly Tasered and finally the police jumped on him in an effort to subdue him. While face down, his large size apparently led to his own asphyxiation and death.

At the time, scrutiny was drawn on the increased use of Tasers when dealing with mental health issues and questions were asked as to whether police were the best trained to deal with people suffering from serious mental health issues.

While advocacy groups pushed for alternative approaches, such as the Memphis model which utilizes both police and mental health professionals, Senate Bill (SB) 82, known as the Investment in Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013 in California, created grant opportunities to use MHSA dollars to expand crisis services statewide.

According to the county staff report, “These newly funded services are expected to lead to improved life outcomes for the persons served and improved system outcomes for mental health and its community partners. The Yolo County Department of Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health (ADMH) was successful in its response to this grant opportunity with a proposal to fund crisis personnel, including clinicians and peer counselors providing services in the community.”

Under the proposed Community Based Crisis Response (CBCR) services, a mental health clinician would be housed at each of four (4) law enforcement agencies in Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento, and Winters.

Clinical staff would accompany law enforcement responding to mental health crises throughout the County.

“The goal of the CBCR is to provide trained clinical staff at the critical juncture when law enforcement responds to a report of a mental health crisis in an effort to expand the range of options available beyond placement in hospitals or jails,” county staff notes. “These clinical staff may divert individuals from being taken to a hospital emergency room or jail and facilitate access to alternatives to hospitalization, such as a crisis residential treatment program.”

In addition, “Clinical staff would also assist in developing a self-care plan to help the individual in crisis identify steps toward recovery and avoiding future crises. Under the CBCR, peer counseling staff would provide follow up support after a crisis event has passed to support an individual’s access to services that will prevent future crises and promote recovery and wellness. Peer counseling staff would be comprised of individuals with lived experience with mental illness who are willing and able to relate to individuals as peers.”

On April 10, 2014 the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Department issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) requesting proposals from qualified providers interested in providing Community Based Crisis Response (CBCR) services to Yolo County residents who come into contact with law enforcement during a psychiatric crisis to reduce the cost of residential placement and psychiatric hospitalization, reduce emergency room visits and incarceration for residents experiencing a psychiatric crisis, facilitate recovery, and avoid future crises.

The County reports, “ADMH did not receive any proposals from this solicitation. ADMH subsequently did a survey of qualified vendors and Turning Point Community Programs agreed to provide these services. ADMH is recommending to the Board of Supervisors approve this contract with Turning Point Community Programs to provide these services from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017.”

The following agencies will participate: County Counsel; Local Mental Health Board; Winters, West Sacramento, Davis and Woodland Police Departments; City of West Sacramento; Yolo County Sheriff’s Department; Yolo Community Care Continuum; Woodland Memorial Hospital; Sutter Davis Hospital; and RISE Inc.

Davis Police Chief Landy Black apparently never received the Vanguard’s email, however, the Vanguard has now reached him and will have a follow up story chronicling the Davis Police Department’s involvement.

No county general funds are required by this action. The total cost of this Agreement is $2,136,225 for three fiscal years.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 Comments

  1. PhilColeman

    The Abrahams incident was a tragic loss of life, we can all agree on that. Now the on-scene presence of a mental health professional in future similar police summons is seen as a more suitable intervention alternative to an escalated use of force by law enforcement.

    I confidently speak for all field law enforcement when I say that–if this works–it is beyond wonderful. But having been on scene many times in such circumstances (all with no-fatal results, fortunately), color me a bit skeptical. In fact, more than a bit.

    Returning to the Abrahams story, insert the presence of a mental health expert. This person will successfully defuse an already emotionally escalated, when the efforts of family and friends and authoritarian figures have already failed. Like the “Horse Whisperer,” the mental health worker will find a channel of communication that defied the abilities of all those who preceded him/her.

    In a few, but admittedly rate, situations I’ve been party to similar cases where such professionals were present. They all failed, leaving no option but forceful intervention. But maybe the science (if there is one) of field intervention with deranged individuals has made many advances in recent years.

    I’m not trying to be cynical. Nothing would give more pleasure than to be shown categorically wrong in this prediction. But I still have to caution, “Lower your expectations.”

    There will be a secondary unintentional benefit in this grant. The secondary may end up becoming the primary. While the mental health pro is riding around with the field officer, there will be a meaningful and productive exchange of views and experiences on this topic. Both professions will benefit notably from this exchange. As the ad says, “Priceless.”

    1. David Greenwald

      I just want to point out that I added the background on the Abraham matter, it was not part of the county’s discussion. I put it in there because it illustrates my concern about law enforcement in situations of mental health crises.

      Your concern is noted and your experience gives us insight. That’s why I was hoping to get feedback from Chief Black – and still hope I do.

    2. Dave Hart

      I appreciate your comments and perspective on this Mr. Coleman. Based on your experience, am I correct in assuming that when officers are called out to deal with a mental health crisis that they understand that the person is not a criminal suspect and that they are responding to what might also be called a medical emergency? I often wonder what mindset officers bring to such a situation. The one question that is always present in my mind when I read about these incidents: How would the officers handle the situation if the person suffering the mental health crisis was the officer’s brother or someone he knew well or cared about as a friend?

  2. Davis Progressive

    this really seems like a no brainer and i fail to see what the downside is. police are not trained well in dealing with mental illness. there is a certain training level that i believe davis pd has reached, but most other agencies in yolo do not require.

    1. South of Davis

      DP wrote:

      > police are not trained well in dealing with mental illness.

      I think that most people know this, yet it seems like the cops always get the blame not the people that call them. Over the years I have read many many stories about a family that calls the cops (guys with guns) and tells them that a family member is not listening to them and is trying to kill them then seem surprised when the crazy family member does not listen to the cops, tries to kill them and is shot…

      If I had water flooding my home with a kid stuck in the basement and called an electrician I’m sure he would try and help me out but things would have been better if I called a plumber. It seems like I should take the blame if the electrician did not get the water off in time to save the kid from drowning…

  3. David Greenwald

    UPDATE: Davis Police Chief Landy Black apparently never received the Vanguard’s email, however, the Vanguard has now reached him and will have a follow up story chronicling the Davis Police Department’s involvement.

  4. David Greenwald

    Landy Black issued this statement: “We at Davis PD have been looking forward to this development in Yolo County mental health crisis response capabilities, brought about through SB 82. Mental health professional (MHP) crisis response to the field has been virtually eliminated for some years now and we look forward to these additional resources that will aid and improve police and crisis responses and coordination.”

  5. theotherside

    This is a step in the right direction. Yolo County mental health has been lacking for years. It will be nice for police/sheriff to have resources on sight to help with those stricken with mental illness.

    However, those who are non-compliant or violent, or having an episode during non-business hours, will not be helped by this program. For example, a 5150 call of a person with a gun, knife, or other weapon threatening to kill them self…it would not be safe or appropriate to have clinical staff in the middle of the call assisting. I am sure this program will have its advantages but it is not going to solve every problem.

    I do applaud Yolo County for stepping up to be the first to institute this though.

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