San Diego County law enforcement responds to more than 53,000 calls for service involving someone with mental illness every year.
That’s an average of 150 calls per day. San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan says that too often the county’s agents fall short of helping the subjects of those calls.
The DA Office’s 25-year study of officer-involved shootings in the county shows there is a 79-percent chance the suspect involved has a mental health issue or is using drugs.
“There needs to be a sea change in the way we address the needs of people who are living with mental illness in our community,” Stephan said.
The DA’s Office announced two initiatives designed to improve the way law enforcement interacts with people with mental health issues, including up to $1.5 million in funding for access to Crisis Intervention and De-escalation Training for police officers and a 911 Mental Health Checklist card.
The DA’s Office also publicly released its Blueprint for Mental Health Reform, which includes reform recommendations to improve public safety outcomes. It also includes 30 recommendations for how law enforcement and the justice system can better respond to people facing mental health challenges.
One of the recommendations was a 911 Checklist Card to be filled out in advance of a call with information that will help responding law enforcement.
There is also a recommendation for first responders training. The training will teach dispatchers how to ask vital questions and also for law enforcement to learn how to de-escalate a situation, assess a mental illness and detect signs of specific drugs.
“This is going to help us with more tools to cope with those in crisis while we're in the field,” said Chief Craig Carter, President of the San Diego County Police Chiefs’ and Sheriff’s Association.
Police will train using the MILO system, an interactive simulator that will improve on similar training systems currently available. The training will also include classroom discussions led by PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) experts, role playing ‘real life’ situations, and use of a video simulator known as the MILO Range Theater.
“The idea is to slow it down, and let's figure out what is best for that individual,” PERT Director Dr. Mark Marvin said. “Our partnership with the District Attorney’s Office will facilitate an expanded training menu to County first responders and PERT looks forward to expanding our collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office to ensure the utmost in care for all members of our community.”