Los Angeles Struggles With Demand For Mental Health Responders

By Victoria Kim 11/15/17

Calls for mental health emergencies to the LA County Sheriff's Department increased by 55% over a five-year period.

Los Angeles police officers on bicycles.

All over the country, police departments are trying a new tactic—pairing police officers with mental health professionals—in hopes of de-escalating potentially violent situations and getting people the help they need.

But some departments are feeling the strain of the growing demand for law enforcement specially trained to respond to mental health emergencies. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in California is one of them.

The LASD has designated Mental Evaluation Teams (METs) that work 24/7 all over Los Angeles County. These crews have come face to face with all kinds of cases—from bullied and suicidal middle schoolers to jail inmates experiencing a psychotic episode. Many, but not all, are homeless. They can get violent. Some have stopped taking their medication.

“We see them at their worst,” Sgt. Annadennise Briz, who heads METs in the San Gabriel Valley, tells the Los Angeles Daily News. “It’s a societal problem. It’s very sad. It’s always a lot of types.”

Their job is to “be calm, unoffended, to understand when to step back and let a mental health specialist step in,” reads the Daily News. By coming from a place of understanding, the METs aim to de-escalate confrontations, and connect people with mental health services. Sgt. Briz, who previously worked as a social worker, says this approach is making a difference, and “changing the stigma.”

The LAPD has its own SMART teams to handle mental health emergencies in the city of Los Angeles. But the county sheriff’s department covers more ground and thus needs more support.

According to the Daily News, calls for mental health emergencies to the LASD increased from 11,660 calls in 2010 to 18,061 calls in 2015—a 55% increase. And others point out that there are not enough hospital beds to receive the people from these mental health calls—and if beds aren’t available, jail is the next option.

By next spring, there will be 23 Mental Evaluation Teams available across LA county, but some say it’s still not enough. A recent report by the LA County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission said that the ideal number of METs is 40 to 80, for the services to be truly “adequate.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr