L.A. police unit provides intervention for treatment of mentally ill instead of jail time

July 06, 2015

The Los Angeles Police Department's mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation. Officers in the unit work with county mental health employees to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illnesses come into contact with police. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit's 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol officers in more than 4,700 calls last year. Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, such as helping S.W.A.T. teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls. For nearly a decade, the LAPD has helped train dozens of agencies both in and out of the U.S. in this type of specialized policing. Last year, about 8.5% of the calls resulted in the person getting arrested and jailed. When that happens, the unit tracks the person through custody and then, upon their release, reaches out to them with links to services.