PLISENTON – Following the example of some other cities in the Bay Area and overseas, Pleasanton will begin sending health workers along with police officers to numerous calls for help when a person is going through a mental health crisis next year.
Officials said the mental health response program will last for two years and will aim to reduce the number of police interactions with a person facing a mental crisis and to release most of the patrol officers, who usually have to help hundreds of mentally ill people. health calls annually to focus on other police officers.
Pleasanton City Council on Tuesday approved the program, which is expected to cost about $ 850,000, and will bring together two police officers and doctors.
The program is part of the city’s response to what they described as a “national police reform movement” in the summer of 2020, triggered by the assassination of George Floyd by the police.
The protests following Floyd’s death have also shed light on how police ask for help when people have mental health problems and how they interact with homeless people.
Pleasanton’s program will include two licensed full-time psychiatrists, one for adults and one for youth, as well as two specially trained police officers from the city’s newly formed homeless group.
Although the program is part of the police department and will be monitored by a sergeant, teams will answer calls in an unmarked car, according to officials, modeled on the San Diego program. According to city reports, on this program, the officer is usually not in uniform, but carries standard police gear with him.
Pleasanton will operate on weekdays, but outside office hours or on weekends, patrol officers will continue to answer mental health calls, according to City reports.
Police Chief David Swing said another goal of the program is to reduce the number of mental health detentions in which people are admitted to mental hospitals by 72 hours.
Vice Mayor Julie Testa said in an interview that she hopes doctors trained in de-escalation can help find ways to work with families and people with mental health problems to avoid involuntary hospitalization.
“Hospitalization is traumatic for both the family and the loved one and is costly. So everyone will be better off if we find ways to support them without that result, ”she said.
The program will also include a part-time program assistant who will act as a social worker to help those contacted by the new response team connect to social protection services or long-term mental health support.
There may also be calls that are handled exclusively by a physician, according to city reports, such as “non-urgent service requests that do not pose an immediate risk to the safety of the public.” Swing said the criteria for processing each response will be determined during the pilot period.
The pilot will cost Pleasanton about $ 844,000, most of which is for the salaries and benefits of three additional employees over two years, and about $ 43,000 to rent two cars for the teams. Salaries and benefits for police officers are already included in the city budget.
The City Council unanimously approved the program at its meeting on Tuesday. Teams are not expected to be dispatched until July; City reports say finding and hiring doctors for such a program can be challenging because “this type of fieldwork is unconventional for the profession.”
City reports state that doctors will be either licensed social workers or licensed family therapists who are legally entitled to recommend mental health retention if needed.
While many California cities across the state and some overseas have launched similar programs, city manager Nelson Fialo said the program would be the first of its kind in the Three Valley area.
While Alameda County has a population assessment and transportation team known as CATT to tackle mental health issues, Swing said Pleasanton was only able to get their help during scheduled visits to those known to have an affair. with mental health problems. The CATT program is not well-equipped to help Pleasanton with “spontaneous” calls, and he says they are focusing most of their efforts in western Alameda County, where they are most needed.
“There is really a lack of resources in Alameda County at this time to make immediate calls to locations here in Three Valley,” Swing told the council.
Testa said she was glad the program was being merged, but she hoped the program would ultimately not include a police officer, but would work like other long-standing successful models. As an example, she mentioned the Crisis Relief Program Aid on the Streets, or CAHOOTS, in Eugene, Oregon.
Created three decades ago, this program brings together physicians and emergency medical technicians to respond to mental health crises.
“There should be a crisis response, and ideally, it should be a medical response, not a law enforcement response,” Testa said at the meeting. Testa serves on the board of the Three Valley Chapter of the National Mental Illness Alliance.
Although she wants the program to develop, she said that just starting in Pleasanton is important.
“For my city, committing resources to this is a huge step forward,” she said in an interview.
She also hopes Livermore and Dublin will join this or a similar program so that people in mental health crises receive the attention they need across Three Valley.