Monday, May 14, 2018
[Santa Clara County] Report: Mentally ill are in nearly 40 percent of South Bay police shootings
In the most definitive look yet at a growing public-safety problem facing South Bay police today, a new civil grand jury report reveals that nearly 40 percent of officer shootings in Santa Clara County involve someone who is mentally ill.
So the watchdog group is urging law enforcement agencies and public health officials to step up training and resources to combat the troublesome trend.
The grand jury found that nine of the 31 people killed in county officer-involved shootings between 2013 and 2017 suffered from a serious mental illness, and that 22 of the 56 total police shootings during that period — including those that were non-fatal — involved a mental-health crisis.
San Jose police chief Eddie Garcia, whose department patrols more than half the county’s population and experiences the majority of officer-involved shootings, said he appreciated the report’s recognition of how police have become first responders to what is essentially a medical issue. He alluded to the report’s finding that 15 percent of the time when police arrive to a scene, it involves someone in mental-health distress, which in San Jose last year amounted to more than 47,000 calls.
“When someone has a medical emergency, they get an ambulance,” he said. “When someone has a mental emergency, they get the police.”
The figures highlight the challenging role officers are increasingly asked to play amid the growing problem involving mental-health crises.
“We’ve been seeing an increase in these calls countywide and statewide,” said Morgan Hill police Chief David Swing, who is also president of the California Police Chiefs Association. “It’s something we’re all struggling with, and we’re all working to find solutions to get the best outcomes.”
The grand jury report made several recommendations for county law enforcement to improve their responses to these encounters, including extensively documenting the presence of a likely mental illness after an officer-involved shooting. But most of the recommendations revolved around increasing funding and expanding crisis intervention and other training to defuse conflicts.
Garcia also noted that given the tens of thousands of calls they receive involving someone who is mentally ill, officers are handling the vast majority of those emergencies without having to resort to using force.
“The report concentrates on the fatal encounters, but there are myriad times where officers are de-escalating the situation and not using firearms,” he said.
The saturation of crisis-intervention training at county police agencies varies, and generally corresponds to a police department’s size. Santa Clara and Campbell police report that 100 percent of their officers have received the full training, and other comparably sized cities have similarly high completion rates, save for Gilroy police, which according to the report has a 19 percent training rate.
San Jose police has trained about 50 percent of its force in crisis training, and Garcia said getting to the rest of the force is simply a matter of time. Swing noted that many of the tactics recommended in the report are already “woven in” to police training beyond responding to mentally ill people.
“We reinforce de-escalation principles throughout,” he said. “It’s part of what we do.”
But the grand jury also acknowledges the role of behavioral-health clinicians and staff on the issue. Santa Clara County is launching two mobile crisis-response teams, one in East San Jose and one in South County, consisting of two mental-health professionals who can respond to corresponding emergencies at the request of dispatchers or police officers.
The county is also using grant money to establish a Psychological Emergency Response Team in Palo Alto that will pair a police officer and clinician to respond to mental-health incidents with teens and other young adults.
“We are focused on meaningful change that is responsive to the needs of our clients and the communities we serve. One of our primary goals is to offer additional resources to officers in the field, before, during and after incidents,” said Toni Tullys, director of the county Behavioral Health Services Department. “As we add more teams, anyone dealing with a person in crisis, even the person themselves, can call for help.”
The grand jury report voiced concern about a shortage of qualified mental-health workers to fill these new roles, and recommended more recruitment and funding for additional mobile crisis teams. County officials agreed, but noted the shortage is industry wide, and that the candidate pool for the mobile teams is smaller due to the need for clinicians with both the training and willingness to work in potentially dangerous situations.
Aaron Zisser, San Jose’s independent police auditor, said the report helps keep a spotlight on a chronic societal challenge, also a key issue addressed in his office’s yearly audit released this month.
“Nothing in the civil grand jury report surprised me. We have been studying this issue closely,” Zisser said. “It is so important that the civil grand jury highlighted the gaps in resources and the impacts on the community.”
Jim and Vicki Showman have been vocal advocates for more crisis training for police. Their daughter Diana was shot and killed in 2014 by San Jose police during an apparent breakdown in which she made a threatening 911 call and spray-painted a cordless drill black to resemble a firearm.
The Showmans said they were encouraged by what they read in the grand jury report.
“It’s good to see the issue is being taken seriously and that they are trying to do something to improve the situation,” he said.
They also support the mobile crisis teams and their expansion. Jim Showman suggested the clinician shortage could be solved in part by approaching colleges and universities to advertise the position to pique the curiosity of those about to enter the work field. Vicki Showman welcomed the infusion of clinical expertise in the field.
“Police have a different job than to do mental health work,” she said. “Any support they can have is going to positively affect the outcome.”
May 11, 2018
The Mercury News
By Robert Salonga