Santa Cruz County Mental Health 911 Calls Analyzed in New Report

SANTA CRUZ — Frontline response to emergency calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis has been the subject of much debate locally and nationally in recent years.

But for the first time in Santa Cruz County, officials say they have a cross-jurisdictional survey that can serve as an “understanding baseline” for ongoing discussions about how the response effort can be refined and improved.

friend zach
friend zach

This week, the county Criminal Justice Board released its 2022 annual report that focused on the policies, training, and procedures enacted by local mental health liaisons and law enforcement in response to calls for service stemming from behavioral health problems.

According to the survey results, 577 911 emergency calls in the county were tagged with mental health codes by dispatchers and police from June 1 through Aug. 15 alone.

Zach Friend, the Santa Cruz County Supervisor representing the 2nd District and also Chairman of the Criminal Justice Board, said this number is likely to be significantly lower. He said the report has given “a better idea of ​​the magnitude of the problem within our community and where there are gaps, both on the back or bedside and on the front or prevention and response side.” “.

It was the “backside” snapshot that revealed Friend’s glaring concerns.

‘growing need’

According to the report, of the 577 calls with mental health codes, 100 resulted in people being transported to local facilities. About 83 of these people were taken to a behavioral health unit or psychiatric health facility for care.

“The worrying thing was that there were times when Telecare was full and someone who needed acute help was transported to the Dominican,” Friend said, adding that this transfer to the hospital is not a sustainable solution.

Corinne Hyland, a spokeswoman for the county Human Services Agency, said the county has a total of 16 inpatient psychiatric beds, all located at a facility in Soquel operated by Telecare.

About 16 of the 100 “transports” went to the Dominican Hospital and four of those people went to an “overflow” unit because hospital space was also running low.

“We don’t have enough beds to meet this growing need,” Friend said.

The answer side

On the contrary, Friend said that there was some clarifying data and positives when it came to the response side.

Three of the five law enforcement agencies included in the survey, the Sheriff’s Office along with the Watsonville and Santa Cruz Police Departments, work with local mental health liaisons who bring behavioral health expertise to calls for service. Local organizations like Santa Cruz County Behavioral Health, Encompass Community Services, Homeless Resource Project and more have partnered with police for liaison services, according to the report.

The Scotts Valley and Capitola Police Departments responded by saying they do not currently work with these links due to budget constraints and minimal calls for service, but both have indicated interest in sharing a link with another jurisdiction.

That willingness to participate in the outreach program is significant, as the number of calls for mental health-related services is growing and the county is not without its incidents in this area that have resulted in tragedy.

In 2016, 32 years Sean Arlt was shot dead by police outside his Westside residence after brandishing a metal bow rake during a confrontation. According to Sentinel reportsthe police had managed to subdue Arlt just a week earlier during an episode of mental illness at the same location.

what lies ahead

Friend said the report is not intentionally prescriptive, but drew lines between reports from previous years and recent policy results.

The board report 2021 honed in on use-of-force policies at local law enforcement agencies as a national conversation on the issue continued to unfold. Friend said the report played an important role in the county board’s decision. create the Office of the Inspector General in December, which will provide independent oversight and review from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

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