In early August, the Vanguard reported that the Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted to make Yolo County 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.
The Davis Police Department will be one of the participating agencies, and, while officials cannot state what the program will look like, they expressed excitement over the promise that the program holds.
Lt. Tom Waltz of the Davis Police Department told the Vanguard that at this time the program is “generic,” as the employees have not yet been hired to run the program. The plan has been in the planning stages for well over a year, but won’t be launched until October of this year.
He told the Vanguard that, at the early stages, “I envisioned a program where there’s actually a liaison between mental health and the police.”
When the police deal with an individual suffering from chronic mental illness and contacted by the police numerous times, they may not at the time be dangerous enough to themselves or others to fall into the 5150 criteria, but they may be on the edge where they really need to see a professional counselor, but there is little the police can do.
Lt. Waltz said that they have in the past attempted to follow the individual’s history, and document incidents, so that in the future, they would be able to place a hold if an incident occurred.
However, that plan suffered from a number of problems. Agencies do not always communicate well between each other and that made it hard to keep track of these individuals.
“There was kind of a gap,” he explained. “We could do a lot of work on an individual, try to get them to a position where they would see somebody from mental health and there would be no one on the other side to follow what we were doing or the history of the person.”
He did not see this as a fault of mental health or the police, but rather as endemic in a government system.
“When SB 82 came up, it will give us the opportunity for solving that,” he said. “The goal right now is to have a clinician and a peer counselor assigned to West Sacramento PD, Davis PD, and Woodland PD” – one to each agency and then a joint one assigned to Winters and the county area.
The goal, said Lt. Waltz, is to guide people away from being committed and having contacts with the police to receive other types of services before they end up being contacted by the police.
“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.”
“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.”
Clinical staff would accompany law enforcement responding to mental health crises throughout the county.
“The goal of the CBCR [Community Based Crisis Response] 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, the county explained, “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.”
How will that look on the ground? Lt. Waltz sees the job of the clinician as working in the police department responding to crisis calls. The peer counselor would be following up on the initial contact and helping to guide the individual through the system.
They did a study on when each agency had the highest frequency of crisis calls, and the hours will be set accordingly. Each agency has its own needs and therefore the program will be run differently in West Sacramento than in Davis. West Sacramento has a large homeless population, and therefore may use the program to get some of the homeless into services that they need.
“What I want to see from Davis PD is for our worker to be more of a preventative tool,” he said. “Many mental health issues related to law enforcement don’t start out as a mental health call.”
Many of the calls, whether they are domestic disturbances or neighborhood issues, “start out as just a disturbance call but the officer soon realizes that the individual responsible is suffering from some sort of a mental health crisis.”
Many times when this happens, the individual doesn’t reach the 5150 threshold and the officer has no choice but to leave the scene. The individual goes back into the world and continues until the next incident.
“My hope is that we can take some of these contacts that the officers are identifying and turn them over to a crisis worker, not only will they be responding to these issues” but also will do follow up with these individuals who were contacted by the police, “but it’s just not a police issue.”
He noted that they can also assist the family members, which he called a “forgotten group.” These people may want to help the individual, but they also have to live with them and they need the resources or knowledge about how to best help them get services.
“I’m hoping we can use that also as a preventative tool so that before somebody actually gets to a crisis where they’re needing to be detained by the police or worse yet restrained by the police, our workers can get them some help,” he said.
Lt. Waltz sees this as not only a follow-up resource but also foresees times when the crisis worker is able to respond with police to a scene, to do an evaluation or help to identify the issues.
Most of these calls, he said, contrary to popular belief, do not include force or any kind of violence. “Most people who are mentally ill are not violent,” he said. “Obviously scenes that are violent and show the potential be violent, they probably wouldn’t be responding to.”
There was a recent incident in Woodland where a man, clearly distraught, ended up allegedly charging police with a knife. In response, the police shot and killed the man.
Lt. Waltz explained, “I don’t see the [incident] in Woodland as being a situation where the clinician would be involved in. Not only because the very nature of the call itself, but also the hours.”
“But those are few and far between,” he stated. “Most mental health calls, even the ones that involve a hold, don’t involve violence.”
Overall, however, Lt. Waltz thinks the program will be a great benefit to the community.
“I’m very excited about the program,” he said, explaining that he has become the go-to person involving people with mental health needs within his department. “I know it’s going to work, but I don’t really know what it’s going to look like.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting