Report finds SF slow to hire crisis workers to help police de-escalate situations

Director of Public Health Barbara Garcia has fallen short of the commitment she made to hire a team of behavioral health specialists who could help San Francisco police avoid shooting another person in crisis, according to a new city report.

The Civil Grand Jury report revealed last week that just three of the five clinicians and psychologists Garcia promised to hire for a new Crisis Intervention Specialist Team back in December 2016 were ready to respond to around the clock calls for support from the San Francisco Police Department.

The Department of Public Health did not fill all of the positions despite being budgeted $760,724 for the team after Garcia announced the program with the late Mayor Ed Lee. The announcement was part of a series of reforms rolled out after police shot and killed Mario Woods in December 2015. Woods appeared to be in crisis.

“Right now they’re not even fully staffed,” said Rasha Harvey, the chairperson for the Civil Grand Jury committee that reviewed the SFPD and DPH over the last eight months. “And the staff they do have, they have not dedicated them to the CIT program. They are handling the CIT calls in addition to other stuff.”

The lack of designated staffing was just one of the many findings included in the report analyzing the Crisis Intervention Team program between the SFPD and DPH. The jury also commended both departments at times, while knocking the SFPD for shortcomings in data collection.

Rachael Kagan, a DPH spokesperson, said the department has hired four of the five positions; two psychologists, a behavioral clinician and a supervising behavioral clinician. But it was not immediately clear whether all four can be deployed to the field, as the report said just three were ready.

“We are glad for the attention to this innovative partnership,” Kagan said. “We appreciate highlighting the positive collaboration and will review the recommendations for improvement. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of some of our city’s most vulnerable residents during times of crisis.”

The jury called on DPH to fill the positions by October. Kagan said the department will fill the fifth position, a psychologist, by September.

Harvey also urged DPH to assign at least one behavioral health clinician to each of the 10 police stations in San Francisco, where police recorded more than 24,000 calls reporting a person in crisis last year, according to the SFPD’s CIT annual report for 2017.

Those numbers include 18,245 calls for a mentally disturbed person and 4,601 calls for a person attempting suicide.

What the numbers don’t capture was an issue for the Civil Grand Jury. The SFPD records use of force incidents and crisis calls separately, but does not combine the numbers together. The jury found that the SFPD should track when a crisis call results in a use of force incident.

The SFPD could then use the data to determine where to deploy the more than 900 officers who have received Crisis Intervention Training in the department, according to Harvey.

The SFPD did not respond to a request for comment, but the department is in the process of improving its data collection.

Overall, Harvey said DPH is hiding behind the fact that the SFPD is an easy target for criticism to “not be held accountable.”

“The key takeaway is the lack of active or equal participation in this program by the public health department,” Harvey said. “We just want to make sure the officers have tools in place to prevent killings, it’s that simple.”

Read the full report here.

Michael Barba
Published by
Michael Barba

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