Law enforcement mental health
Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy speaks in support of the county’s Mobile Crisis Response Teams. Photo credit: Screen shot, County San Diego via YouTube

All law enforcement agencies in the region now will be able to refer mental health crisis calls to 911 onto a San Diego County Mobile Crisis Response Team.

Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher made the announcement Thursday at the County Administration Center, joined by law enforcement, county behavioral health and response team officials.

“Mobile Crisis Response Teams are working, and through this new collaboration with the 11 law enforcement agencies in San Diego County, their dispatch teams are now on the frontlines to make sure (the teams reach) people in need,” Fletcher said.

He also said that the teams, “operating around the clock” are “a better way to provide the right services at the right time.”

The teams, he added, have responded to more than 1,200 referrals thus far. Having trained behavioral health experts as the first people a patient encounters, he argued “changes their entry point into the healthcare system, and changes their trajectory moving forward.”

In March, the county’s law enforcement agencies signed a memorandum with the county, and have since been phasing in the process of referring calls to the response teams.

As of Monday, all of the agencies are referring calls, but if someone is undergoing a mental health crisis, the county encourages people to first call its access and crisis line at 888-724-7240 to summon a Mobile Crisis Response Team.

The agencies include the San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, along with the Harbor Police and departments in the cities of Carlsbad, Coronado, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa, National City and Oceanside.

Chula Vista police and Chief Roxana Kennedy joined Fletcher for the announcement. Her department was an early adopter of dispatching Mobile Crisis Response Teams.

“We are thankful for this partnership and we are committed to its success,” Kennedy said.

There are 16 response teams working across the county on a 24/7 basis as of last month. Since January 2021, the teams have responded to 1,277 calls, 1,099 from the access and crisis line and 178 from law enforcement.

According to the county’s self-reported data, 47% of people referred to these teams were able to “be stabilized and remain in the community,” while 22% had to be transported for services. Nearly 15% declined treatment.

Overall, 20% of the referrals are people experiencing homelessness.

Christian Hodges, a clinical director with county contractor Telecare, said members of the teams, including clinicians, case managers and peer staff, are trained specifically for behavioral health crises.

“We know how to deescalate the situation, connect with them on a personal level and provide them with the care, and services they need to improve their circumstances,” Hodges said.

Dr. Piedad Garcia, deputy director of the county’s Behavioral Health Department, added that officials plan to expand and modify the program, “in its infancy stage,” as needed.

– City News Service