BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Bakersfield Police officers respond to all 911 calls and while most calls are about a crime being committed some involve someone suffering from a mental health issue.
Wednesday, the city council could change how mental health-related 911 calls are handled. This pilot program, being voted on during the 5 pm Bakersfield city council meeting, is a partnership between BPD and Kern Behavioral Health.
Kern Behavioral Health told 23ABC that a mental health clinician to the 911 dispatch center would be the first in the country.
"We got the input from the community and looked at best practices and through our partnership talking to some of the subject matter experts at Kern Behavioral Health and recovery services, it made sense to try a pilot program with a clinician in our communications center,” said Sergeant Robert Pair from the Bakersfield Police Department
Pair said the goal is to have someone that is the first line of communication to someone that is having a mental health crisis.
“Keep in mind that a large number of our calls that we receive even on our emergency line aren’t necessarily classically emergencies. It may be someone that has repeat mental health issues,” said Pair
Tonya Mann from Kern Behavioral Health agrees having a mental health expert on a call will help provide a more immediate response.
"The last thing someone wants to do when they are in a behavioral health crisis is wait for law enforcement to respond," said Mann. "So our thought is if we can have someone right there in the comm center. We can provide that immediate response and talk through to hopefully help that person resolve that crisis.”
Mann also said the clinician would not only respond to the call but will help the individual with long-term mental health services.
“Behavioral health staff can have a conversation with the individual discussing their behavioral health needs. We can transfer to our hotline, we can link to services, whatever we need to do to resolve the situation in that moment,” said Mann
Pair believes the program is a win-win because adding this will help officers focus their energy on other calls.
“Decrease the number of resources, meaning officers on the street that are having to respond to non-criminal matters and hopefully then drive down response times so, we get there quicker when it is a criminal matter,” said Pair
Kern Behavioral Health and BPD entered a memorandum of understanding last week.