Alternatives to 911 at County BOS
County staff presented a proposal for a pilot Alternatives to 911 Program at the February 24 County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The proposed pilot would operate five days a week with four mental health response teams paired with a Sr. Mental Health Counselor and Sr. Behavioral Health Peer Specialist. County staff used community input from listening sessions to develop a pilot model that prioritizes response that de-escalate situations, are trauma-informed, led by staff that are trained in how support individuals experiencing a mental health crisis rather than criminalizing behaviors.
While the pilot takes a step forward, it is not enough. Community members and some Board of Supervisors called for a pilot that provided 24/7 support. Because let's be real, life doesn't happen during regular business hours.
Serna grilled staff about data used to develop the pilot and called for more analysis. He also pushed to expand the pilot 7 days a week:
With only 5 out of 7 day so of coverage, we will shortchange ourselves and the public... This is too important to have it be abbreviated to be just 5 of 7 days a week.
There was a lot of conversation about the intent of this alternatives to 911 pilot (ahem - someone other than the police need to take the calls and respond.) Including Supervisor Desmond who said,
A great thing about a program like this isn’t just a relief valve for law enforcement and 911. It’s an alternative to 911 calls not just to law enforcement, but for emergency medical services as well.
The most important aspect is to not have law enforcement to be the one encountering an individual in crisis.
Nottoli broke it down further for those on the dias, stating that there would a significant volume of calls that won’t be routed through law enforcement that will be calls for mental health services and human services. That’s the whole intent of this 911 alternatives pilot. He went on to say:
There are no wrong doors - 911, 311, or 211. Whatever your care line is, however they come in...whoever is responsible for receiving the call - that initial determination about dispatch for services are needed. It’s important that what we are working towards here is to have a mental health, community health and quality of life response team with trained dispatchers and trained skills professionals that can respond to those that don’t warrant law enforcement response. You are trying to get to a large bulk of calls for services and calls for people that are in need of help and get the appropriate people to respond and hopefully have much better outcomes for everyone involved.
To be expected, some Supervisors rang the alarm bells during the presentation asking, "what about law enforcement?":
I wasn’t thinking about the cities, I was thinking about the Sheriff. I didn’t think of this being county, until local jurisdictions brought it up to me…
Why do we have to vote on something? Why do we have to pass on it and then have the conversation? It seems like it’s not fair and it does impact their business model. It impacts their ability to be fully on alert in their jurisdiction.
It’s a red herring to talk about removing law enforcement entirely. I don’t want to go down that road. I just have to say that’s completely unreasonable and never going to happen. What this is about is removing law enforcement. There is still such a huge percentage [of calls] that don’t require law enforcement, and those are what this program focuses on in my mind.
BEST OF PUBLIC COMMENT
We'll start with the comments from the Police Chief Lawrence from Citrus Heights representing all police chiefs in the county. (He was allowed an extra minute or more without any fuss from the dais.) He started off by saying that law enforcement is one of the largest stakeholders with regards to government response to residents suffering from mental health crisis as well as homeless in our county.
All of our police chiefs in our county were completely caught off guard by this item. And surprised to learn about this pilot program. We only learned about it in the past couple of days and still don’t know how it would impact our local municipalities.
Really? You all just heard about it and you haven't been paying attention to the past few months and lobbying your Supervisors?
Community members provided some balance and got real:
Are we really more concerned about law enforcement’s business models? Or are we more focused meeting the needs of our marginalized and at need community members that are at risk of being killed by the inappropriate response model.
"Appropriately funding this 911 alternative program will save lives. We need to shift how we view individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Instead of viewing individuals as dangerous, that need to be controlled through aggressive or intensive policing, let's look at them as as individuals experience a deterioration of their mental health functioning due to the lack of adequate treatment."
"We have been relying on cops to handle people we fear and who we fail to understand . This has been and still is a dangerous and deadly approach. Many people in Sacramento have needlessly died by law enforcement, who only needed appropriate health services. Many people including myself and my family who need crisis level help avoid requesting it at all for fear that your law enforcement will kill them or their family member. This is a disability justice and a racial justice issue."
"Sue Frost just stated that it’s not fair to leave police out of alternatives to 911 and mental health issues because it impacts their business model. Which I think is very telling. Are we concerned about law enforcement’s business model in other words more money for sheriff and staff police already bloated budgets?"
I work with people who experience mental illness every day. I wanted you to know that with training and experience, mental health professionals deescalate mental health crises every single day without weapons and without killing anyone. This alternative is more effective offers betters service to people and safer for people in crisis and is more cost effective than funding law enforcement.
Patrick Kennedy moved to continued to March 30 and requested staff return with the following:
Costs to operate seven days a week for 8, 16, and 24-hours a day;
Identify funding sources, including the Sheriff’s Department budget and COVID-19 funds;
Include the 911 Alternative program in the County’s budget and provide cost savings analysis (current emergency response system compared with the proposed 911 alternative system);
Include feedback and input from local jurisdictions including WEAVE and the Chronic Nuisance Offenders program;
Present one year of 911 call data; and
Present options for program integration with existing emergency response systems within all jurisdictions.