Police examine stats on mental health calls

REGION — Law enforcement agencies throughout San Diego County are getting an increasing number of mental health-related calls, such as attempted suicides, according to new statistics compiled by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division.

Between 2008 and 2013, the region’s four largest law enforcement agencies – the Sheriff’s and the San Diego, Chula Vista, and Oceanside Police Departments – saw a 55 percent increase in calls for service involving people who pose a danger to themselves or to others due to a mental health crisis. The total number of calls jumped from 14,442 in 2008 to 22,315 in 2013. Data was provided by the Oceanside, San Diego and Chula Vista Police Departments and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division conducted a recent survey to gather data because of anecdotal reports that a growing amount of law enforcement resources in the region is being consumed by mental health calls. In calendar year 2013, data was available from 11 local law enforcement agencies, showing that on average they handle 69 such calls per day, or a total of 25,216 for the whole year.

The exact reasons for the increase in mental health-related calls are hard to determine, but possible factors include: 1) limited resources from the state to address mental health conditions; 2) the expectation that officers and deputies respond to mental health crises; 3) an increase in Independent Living Facilities (ILFs), which provide housing to individuals with mental health issues, but are not licensed and managed by the state; 4) stressful economic conditions; 5) and the release of non-violent offenders from detention facilities who may have mental health issues.

In San Diego County, the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) pairs specially trained officers and deputies with licensed mental health professionals. In addition, the County of San Diego has launched a multimedia public education campaign to encourage San Diegans to speak up and get help or offer support to those experiencing mental health challenges.

In early 2014, SANDAG queried local law enforcement about whether their departments had seen recent increases in the number of calls for service (CFS1) for a mental health-related issue, including attempted suicides. This effort was initiated based on anecdotal information this was a regional issue consuming a greater amount of law enforcement resources than it had in previous years. With data readily available from eleven local agencies2 for calendar year 2013, it does appear that the need for law enforcement to respond to mental health crises in the community is significant, with an average of 69 CFS reported per day in 2013 (total of 25,216).

In addition, when looking at six years (2008 through 2013) of data for the region’s four largest law enforcement agencies (which represented 88 percent of the mental health CFS in 2013), the increase over time is noteworthy, with 22,315 CFS in 2013, compared to 14,442 in 2008 (an increase of 55 percent). While the exact reasons for these increases are difficult to determine, possible factors include limited resources from the state and the expectation that officers and deputies respond to mental health crises; an increase in Independent Living Facilities (ILFs) in some communities, which provide housing to individuals with mental health issues, but which are not licensed and managed by the state; stressful economic conditions; and the release of non-violent offenders from detention facilities who may have mental health issues.

Because of the time, cost, and public safety risks of responding to these calls, the release read, it is clear that comprehensive regional strategies are essential to keeping our communities safe and healthy. Current efforts, such as the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team or PERT (which pairs specially trained law enforcement with licensed mental health professionals to provide clinical support to law enforcement, pertsandiego.org) and the county of San Diego’s multi-media education and awareness campaign (up2sd.org), which encourages San Diegans to “speak up” (and get help) or “listen up” (and offer support to those experiencing mental health challenges), are worthwhile. As such, it is important that the dialogue on this important issue continues and we work together to ensure education and equitable and compassionate screening and treatment are readily available to address an issue that can affect us all.

 

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