Officers have been dealing with a steady rise in mental health emergency calls, including attempted suicides, according to a new report by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).
Between 2008 and 2013, the total number of mental health-related calls jumped from 14,442 in 2008 to 22,315 in 2013, according to the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division.
The sheriff’s department and the San Diego, Oceanside and Chula Vista police departments have altogether seen 55 percent more calls for help involving people with mental health issues who pose a danger to themselves or others.
The research started when officials heard anecdotally more resources were being taken up by this issue than in past years.
On average, local law enforcement agencies dealt with 69 mental health calls per day in 2013.
SANDAG researchers say it’s hard to pin down the exact reasons for the increase, but a few contributing factors have been identified.
They cite stressful economic conditions, limited resources from the station and the expectation that officers should respond to mental health crises.
A rise in independent living facilities that give housing to those with mental health issue, but are not licensed and managed by the state, could be another factor, and so could the release of non-violent offenders who may have mental health problems from detention facilities.
SANDAG officials are calling for comprehensive regional strategies to deal with these calls, which cost the county time, money and public safety risks.
Right now, the county has a multimedia awareness campaign to encourage San Diegans to get help or offer help to those experiencing mental health problems.
A psychiatric emergency response team also pairs specially trained law enforcement with licensed mental health professionals.