Eureka Police Department will soon have mental health professionals to dispatch on incidents involving people in crisis | Lost Coast Outpost

Eureka Police Sgt. Léonard La France can cite countless situations in which he or a member of the department Community Services Engagement Team (CSET) intervened in a mental health crisis. Just last month, his team responded to a report of a suicidal teenager who had barricaded himself in a vehicle. CSET officers were able to de-escalate the situation and get the individual the help he needed, but France admitted that having a non-police option on the scene – a mental health professional – “ would have provided additional experience and knowledge” and could have “been more effective”.

sergeant. France with its long-time partner Vex | Picture of the LoCO file

“We saw many, many, many calls where adults and minors were in crisis and/or suicidal,” he told the Outpost in a recent interview. “Many of them [situations] could have included [a mental health] clinician taking the lead with CSET in support. Some would require CSET to take the lead while the clinician waits for help.

Eureka Police responded to over 900 similar calls for service in 2021, up approximately 37% from 2020. Currently, when the EPD receives a call for service related to mental health, patrol officers are dispatched to the scene. CSET members usually respond as well and often pick up the call. If the call is during normal business hours and the department really needs support, officers will request assistance from the county health and human services department, but if staff are not available, the situation will be handled exclusively by law enforcement. France is trying to change that.

The city of Eureka is part of a wave of municipalities across California and the country rethinking how they handle non-criminal 911 calls. Earlier this month, the Eureka City Council approved the creation of a Mental Health Clinician Manager position to serve on the police department’s budding Alternative Response Team (ART) and strengthen the city’s response to mental health crises.

“This is a first for the city of Eureka, and it’s truly groundbreaking for us,” La France said, noting that the position will be funded by Measure Z. “Let’s say we have a call for a welfare check on a person in crisis but there is no indication of violence. Instead of sending a standard police response, we [would] send ART and maybe CSET in support. Depending on the circumstances, ART has the ability to use anyone on their team to take the lead, which could lead to various outcomes.

Specifically, he hopes ART will contribute to CSET’s mission to fight addiction and crime within the homeless community. Since the creation of CSET in 2018, France has focused on building “real human connections” with homeless people in Eureka by raising awareness and helping to connect people to essential resources. While this approach has proven effective in some ways, he acknowledged that a different strategy – a combination of social work and law enforcement – ​​is also needed.

“We would be on our service sites like Free Meal, engaging people, doing outreach and acknowledging that we didn’t have the expertise to really meet the needs of serious mental health cases or even those who have need significant help with social services,” he explained. . “…As time progressed and CSET progressed through our program, which included responding to people in crisis, we further recognized the need to have mental health professionals co-responding with us – this would give us options on approaches, different perspectives, and a depth of training/experience that most law enforcement officers don’t necessarily have.”

A mental health professional truly integrated into the team would help advance CSET’s efforts to prevent mental health crises in the first place.

“We’re leaning more toward other ways to respond and being more proactive and preventative than reactionary,” Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said. Outpost this week. “The mental health clinician will not only assist CSET with service calls, but will also complement what Uplift Eureka do. When they meet people where they are and are able to provide them with services that prevent them from ending up in an emergency.

Hiring a mental health clinician manager is the first step. Eventually, this person will oversee the City’s mental health team, which will ideally include a field clinician and two mental health workers.

“This team would conduct proactive engagement with the community independently, could also be integrated with CSET and Uplift, and would also assign one employee each day to ART,” La France said. “ART contains 3.5 components: a mental health professional from the city’s mental health team, a health professional and an outreach worker from Uplift Eureka. CSETs are the half-tooth because they’re not always needed, but again, we’re not naive enough to believe we can completely remove law enforcement from the picture.

EPD Alternative Response Team | Contributed

Eureka City Council member Natalie Arroyo hopes there will come a time when clinicians can respond to nonviolent calls for service independently of law enforcement officials “when it is safe to do so.”

“This will be a huge boon to our law enforcement, freeing them up to respond to calls when a sworn officer is needed and ensuring those in need of health care receive the services they need,” Arroyo wrote. in an e-mail to Outpost. “There are still challenges to overcome, such as the distribution of protocols and safety measures for clinicians, but I am convinced that the EPD can make it happen.”

Council member Leslie Castellano acknowledged that accessing mental health resources “can be very difficult in our rural area” and said the city’s efforts to hire a mental health clinician “will continue to advance approaches Eureka’s innovative solutions to meet the needs of the homeless community and the general public.”

Council member Scott Bauer added that the position will serve as a key element in helping CSET defuse mental health crises in the field, rather than putting an individual on hold 5150.

“Health professionals in our hospitals cannot be continually inundated with people suffering from a serious mental health crisis,” he told the Outpost. “We cannot and must not allow those charged with caring for us in these difficult times to be assaulted, as has happened once too often in the recent past. I hope that the mental health clinician, in collaboration with the CSET, will help us better assess and triage mental health problems encountered on the streets, and thus protect our beloved health professionals from potentially dangerous working conditions. dangerous.

More information on the Mental Health Management Clinician position can be found here.

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