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Mental health teams alleviate strain on San Diego County's law enforcement agencies

As of January 2021, more than 1,200 people have been helped by Mobile Crisis Response Teams (MCRT).
Community_MCRT LEA_ Berjan
San Diego Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher, flanked by members of local law enforcement, county behavioral health experts and MCRT clinicians in making the announcement at the County Administration Center.

All law enforcement agencies in San Diego County began referring mental health and substance abuse calls Monday to the county-sponsored Mobile Crisis Response Teams (MCRT) instead of the police. 

San Diego County collaborated with its 11 law enforcement agencies to redirect mental health crisis calls from 911 to MCRT, which operates around the clock to deliver services throughout the region. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said MCRT alleviates the burden faced by law enforcement due to the lack of investment in mental health care. 

“Mobile crisis response teams alleviate the burden on law enforcement, freeing them to keep us safe and provide these individuals with the right care,” Fletcher said. 

County officials encourage people to call the MCRT access line at 888-724-7240 in place of 911 for non-emergency mental health calls. In March, Law enforcement agencies region-wide signed a memorandum of agreement with the county. As of May 9, partnered law enforcement agencies established a system to redirect calls to MCRT. 

According to Fletcher, MCRT "represent a better way to deliver behavioral health services to an individual in a state of crisis and an individual in a state of need”. The region will be serviced by 16 MCRT units that work different shifts around the clock. 

“Getting all 11 jurisdictions and all the law enforcement agencies in our county to sign an MOU is a significant step forward to increase proper dispatching and utilization of the mobile crisis response teams,” Fletcher said.  

Fletcher touted the Citys of Chula Vista and National City for their leadership and being early adopters of dispatching MCRT. 

“While the men and women of law enforcement do a tremendous job every day evaluating these calls to bring help to those in need. We realize not all the calls require a law enforcement officer. Our partnership with the county's mobile crisis response team has allowed us to free up valuable law enforcement resources to focus on other areas of public safety,” Chula Vista Police Department Chief Roxana Kennedy said. 

According to Kennedy, also president of the San Diego County Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, law enforcement responded to 38,380 calls for service for mental health-related concerns last year. As of January 2021, the MCRT responded to 1,277 calls. 

Nearly half of the calls to MCRT resulted in patients being stabilized on-site, and 22 percent resulted in individuals being transported to behavioral health services, such as crisis stabilization units. 

About 13 percent of the calls responded to the individual declined services, while about 20 percent of the individuals were experiencing homelessness.

Individuals who have historically been unresponsive to law enforcement have shown more receptiveness to the MCRT, according to Christian Hodges,  Clinical Director with the County MCRT contractor Telecare. 

“The goal of a mobile crisis response team is to bridge the gap between crisis response and law enforcement, allowing the police to focus on keeping our communities safe. While we need mental health support,” Hodges said. 

According to Fletcher, the county has enough MCRT units to meet the current needs of the county, but that will be a part of ongoing analysis, and the continuation of funding will be a decision of the county’s  Board of Supervisors. 

“I feel confident that this board sees the value in this but I believe future boards will. You will get better outcomes when you get a suffering individual into a better level of care," Fletcher said. 

Fletcher said that the county “will rigorously monitor and assess the MCRT and if we need to add more teams".