IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME! Part 2

Updated: Jan 21



Although Community Advocates were pushing for an Independent Advisory Board for the Wellness Crisis Call Center and Response Treatment Program (WCCCRT; the program formerly known as Alternatives to 911), we ended up getting the Sacramento County Mental Health Board voting back in May to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that a subcommittee of the Mental Health Board be formed to take on this function.


As a compromise, they included the specification that the advisory committee “include both community members and Mental Health Board members with diverse community and linguistic representation.”


This recommendation has yet to be placed on the agenda of a Board of Supervisors meeting. In fact, nothing about the Alternatives to 911 program has hit that dais since budget hearings in June when the Supes approved the $6.5 billion recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22 which included '$12 million to fund a non-law enforcement Alternative Emergency Response to people experiencing mental health issues in the unincorporated County and all cities except for the City of Sacramento'

In August, Sac County Behavioral Health Services held four two-hour Community Stakeholder Workgroup sessions where they collected a grip of information on program operations and training suggestions, community partner collaborations, advisory committee composition, and community outreach planning. Took ‘em FOUR MONTHS to have a public “Report Back” where they spit back out what they collected from community members in August (check out the SJPC recap by clicking this link).


In October, the Mental Health Board formed an Ad Hoc workgroup during its general meeting to draft recommendations for consideration by the Board of Supervisors regarding the composition and selection process for WCCCRP Advisory Committee, its operation, and next steps. Sac County Behavioral Health Services had shared the Community’s recommendations about composition of the Advisory Committee it collected in August to this ad hoc Workgroup for their consideration. And on December 15, just two days after the County held its Report Back, a special meeting of the Mental Health Board was held via Zoom to review and approve recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding the program formerly known as Alternatives to 911 Advisory Committee.


Before digging in to the good stuff, the chairperson of the Mental Health Board shared how the meeting was gonna go down: she’d present the recs, members of the public would get to make comments, and then the Board members would discuss the recommendations before voting.


The function of the Advisory Committee was explained: “to monitor operations, make program recommendations, and review outcomes regarding the WCCCRP…will also assist Behavioral Health Services with transparency and provide connection to the community.”


This Committee would make recommendations that would go the Mental Health Board to be considered and if approved, would then go to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. It was revealed that the Committee would have 9 seats and that


'There will be a purposeful overrepresentation of community members to MHB members…Of these nine seats, three (3) shall be filled by current MHB members that meet specific qualifications and six (6) shall be filled by community members that meet specific qualifications.' And that all members of this Committee - not just the Mental Health Board members - would have the ability to vote

What are those specific qualifications? It seems that recommendations that the ad hoc Workgroup put together were heavily influenced by the recommendations given by the Community Stakeholders during those meetings in August! And they had research and statistics backing them up to make them even more powerful!!


Community members of this committee will be representative of the key groups described below…including a balance between individuals who have directly experienced mental health and/or substance use needs and their family members/loved ones

Prioritized Lived Experiences Include:

  • Individuals who have directly experienced mental health and/or substance use needs

  • Individuals who have been arrested and/or formerly incarcerated

  • Individuals who have previously or are currently experiencing homelessness

  • Individuals who are living with disabilities

  • Survivors of intimate partner violence

  • Family members and caregivers of people with lived experience with behavioral health needs and/or incarceration


Prioritized Demographics Include:

  • Specific efforts to represent or overrepresent those that have been the most impacted by law enforcement responses to mental health situations

  • Age groups, including transition age youth (e.g. ages 14-25), adults, and older adults, including youth with current or former experience in the foster system

  • Gender, including individuals who identify as transgender and a diversity of gender identities

  • Sexual orientation, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or queer identified individuals

  • Race, ethnicity, and culture, including Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Native American or Indigenous, and Latinx/Hispanic/Latino communities

  • Language, including people who speak Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL)

  • Geographic representation from across the County of Sacramento, including underserved areas

  • Lower socioeconomic status

  • Diversity in education levels


And the bestest part:

For these reasons, it is recommended that persons who currently or have previously worked in law enforcement be excluded from the advisory committee…persons who have familial or intimate partnerships in law enforcement should also be excluded. Consideration was given to the desire for participation of individuals with lived experience and wanting to center that experience in this advisory committee.

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Twelve board members (including Supervisor Patrick Kennedy cuz he serves as the Mental Health Board’s appointed Supervisor; he abstained from voting cuz he usually don’t vote one way or another on matters that will be going before the Board of Supes), the County’s Behavioral Health Services Director Dr. Ryan Quist, and a few other County staff members that provide support to the Mental Health Board were in the meeting, along with over 30 Community members who showed up and showed the F@*% out in their public comments!!


One public commenter likened having law enforcement on the advisory board to having a priest that sexually abused you be a part of the process of helping you recover from being molested….One public commenter gave a history lesson about how modern-day policing has its roots in the slave patrol…One public commenter shared about the pain of having one of her loved one killed by Sac PD when he was experiencing a mental health crisis. This same community member shared that she was interrupting celebrating her son’s 9th birthday in order to give her public comment on this issue because it’s THAT important that law enforcement be no where near this advisory committee…One public commenter shared about having his shoulder dislocated by law enforcement when he was trying to protect community members in the midst of a protest as a way to demonstrate to the mental health board members that police brutality doesn’t just happen in Los Angeles or Minnesota but right here in Sacramento as well….


That our Black, Brown, Indigenous, & other impacted community members had to recount some of their most traumatic experiences in order for those who have been appointed by their County’s district Board Supervisors in positions of power to even consider an alternative way to keep people safe is egregious.

In fact, the community member who shared about his experience with police brutality expressed that he would be in need of seeking his own mental health services due to the psychological distress caused by disclosing such a personal and traumatic experience. The Mental Health Board meeting was not good for folx’s mental health, yall….


As you can imagine, excluding the PoPo got a few of the Mental Health Board members all riled up. Including member whose initials are RG who was dressed lookin like a Proud Boy.


His White Supremacy Culture characteristics were in full effect during this meeting:


1) Instead of waiting until after public comment - or even after the presentation of the recommendations concluded - he had to interject about 15 minutes in to say how prioritizing and centering those most impacted is not ‘democratic’ and how absurd he thinks it is to include teenagers and give them voting privileges


2) How unrealistic he thought it was for the exclusion of law enforcement to get approved by the Board of Supervisors, especially seeing as one of the Supes is a former law enforcement officer, and that there’s no way the Supes would jeopardize getting campaign contributions from law enforcement groups by approving this recommendation. Oh yeah and he also tried to compare his own mental health challenges to those experienced by people of color. There was probably a lot more BS from homeboy that this writer needed to block out in order to preserve their mental health. RG was a hard NO vote for the recommendations.


It’s important to note that RG serves on the Mental Health Board in the District 3 Consumer seat. What does this mean? It means that he identifies as a consumer of behavioral health services and he was appointed by District 3 Board Supervisor Rich Desmond - who was a CHP field & legislative officer for 26 years before retiring and running for Supe. Also worthy of noting is that Desmond appointed RG to the Mental Health Board in March 2021, pretty much right around the same time that the proposed budget for the Alternatives to 911 program had grown from $1milli to $6.5milli and the scope went from a pilot that operated Monday thru Friday 9am to 5pm to 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Coincidence? You decide.


The other Mental Health Board member that expressed concern about having specific exclusionary criteria to keep law enforcement out of the Advisory Committee is an attorney that sits in a Public Interest seat for District 3, has the same last name as Sac County’s Deputy County Executive for Social Services and Interim Director for Public Safety and Justice​ (except Bruce doesn’t have an “E” at the end of his last name), and was also appointed to the Mental Health Board by Supe Rich Desmond. He was of the mind that there are lots of good cops who want to do the right thing, and that if we screen carefully for them then they should be included. It seemed to be news to him when another Board member spoke about how there’s a whole subset of people who refuse to call 911 because of the disproportionate impact of law enforcement encounters on communities of color. And he seemed to be relieved to hear that the Mobile Crisis Support team, Sac County’s current crisis response for behavioral health crises that responds with a Sheriff and a behavioral health staffperson, would still be in operation. This member ended up abstaining from voting.


Another Mental Health Board member who occupies a Public Interest seat from District 1 (Serna’s district) identified herself as “a retired social worker,” “a Chicana,” and “pretty progressive,” and then pretty much said All Lives Matter (without saying those specific three words). She talked about the importance of equity and how “unequitable” it would be to exclude a specific group. She also quoted the Serenity Prayer and then wished everyone a Merry Christmas in Spanish…before dropping out of the meeting before a final vote was taken.


Although the meeting was scheduled for two hours, a final vote didn’t go down until close to the third hour mark. The Mental Health Board voted to Approve the Recommendations, with a 8 (YES) - 1 (NO) - 2 (ABSTAIN) vote. Glad the other board members were bold and brave enough to vote for the approval of these recommendations.


Next, these recs go to the Board of Supes for their vote in order to be official.


Once approved, applications for appointment to the Sacramento County Mental Health Board - Wellness Crisis Call Center and Response Program Advisory Committee will be distributed and reviewed, applicants will be screened, and the Advisory Committee for the program formerly known as Alternatives to 911 will be seated by July 2022 when the program is set to go live. As always, SJPC will keep you up to date so stay tuned!


To read up on a past joint from SJPC on this topic, check out https://www.socialjusticesac.org/post/alternatives-to-911-mean-alternatives-to-law-enforcement

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