‘Community-centered wellness’: 4 San Mateo County city police departments partner with mental health professionals for 911 calls

San Mateo County, California (KGO) — Four of the largest cities in San Mateo County began their pilot program Monday, with partners training mental health professionals with police officers to respond to behavioral health crisis calls.

With 14 years of law enforcement experience, San Mateo County Superintendent Don Horsley aimed to find a solution to how police could best respond to mental health calls.

“My goal has always been to resolve situations in a safe way that provides public safety and everyone can go home at night,” Horsley said. “Whether it is the mentally ill person or his deputies and police officers.”

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With not every case looking this way, he asked, “What can we do differently?”

Beginning Monday, Daly City, South San Francisco, San Mateo and Redwood City police departments will send officers and trained physicians to mental health calls.

“This is community-centric wellness, it’s a luxury that focuses on the community and then allows police officers to do what they really need to do,” said San Mateo County Superintendent David Canepa.

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In addition to allowing police to focus on crime, the project aims to provide an alternative to imprisonment for people going through a behavioral health crisis.

Briana Fair, a San Mateo Police Department physician, says she puts the people best trained to handle cases on the front lines.

“I’ll be able to pool all of these community resources into my own toolbox, and I’ll be able to take this toolkit to every call and really take advantage of that aspect of being able to provide the best care rather than just the bottom line,” she said.

However, police reform advocates in Redwood City wanted more.

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“There is a lot of fear that police officers will unlawfully use force against people, especially in situations of mental health crises,” said Michael Solorio, co-chair of Silicon Valley DSA Redwood City. Because of that, we prefer the police not to come on every emergency call.

Through a partnership with Stanford University and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, program outcomes are monitored and will be considered next year.

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