BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — In light of the recent officer involved shooting this week that family members said left their loved one with schizophrenia dead, we are digging deeper into the mobile crisis response unit that is intended to work alongside law enforcement with those who are mentally ill.
Kern Behavioral Health has several teams in places that are on standby 24/7 to help law enforcement address mental health patients in the field, to make sure they are not a danger to the community or themselves.
However, what we found is that there may not be enough units to address these situations in Kern County due to ongoing budget cuts.
For over 20 years in Kern County a mobile mental health evaluation team has been on standby to help law enforcement…
“A team that gets dispatched through law enforcement after law enforcement has arrived. We also now have co-teams where we have law enforcement and one of our staff in the same car,”Kern Behavioral Health Director, Bill Walker said.
Walker said only 14 staff members are trained to respond 24/7 to mental health patients county wide, but that doesn’t always mean they are available county wide for officers to use in the field because the county is over eight thousand square miles wide.
“We have both virtual evaluation which would allow a law enforcement officer on a HIPAA protected iPad to connect with us.”
Walker said the mobile crisis response team is dispatched through the Bakersfield Police Department or the Kern County Sheriff’s office dispatch agents.
In the last 15 days, BPD reports they’ve received 159 calls for suicidal subjects.
In the last year, out of the 4,000 calls for the mobile crisis response team… about 2,600 of those were requested by BPD .
Walker said if an officer shows up and determines a professional, from the mobile evaluation team is needed, a few factors play into whether the mobile unit professional will respond to a scene.
“We only have so many teams on at any time so there has to be a team available.”
However, even though officers may call for the mobile crisis back up.. the staffing issue can impact their arrival.
Walker said with budget cuts the unit will likely not be expanded anytime soon.
Kern County Sheriff’s Office Department Lieutenant Joel Swanson said, its essential that reporting parties inform dispatchers if someone is mentally ill so that dispatchers can call on the mobile crisis unit.
“We use them on a regular daily basis, we have multiple calls a day that we request them, but sometimes they don’t have anyone to respond because they are already out on calls," Swanson said.
He said if it’s reported that the subject is armed with a firearm or anything that can be used as weapon to the dispatcher, the dispatcher will not call on the mental health unit.
However, he also said officers are trained to spot when someone may need a medical professional.
“Some people will be talking themselves, some people will be yelling and screaming at random people, some will be armed.”
Both law enforcement agencies said this is a tremendous support.
However, Kern Behavioral Health also acknowledges that their team is still not large enough to respond to every scene and they would need more financial support to expand the mobile crisis unit.