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SF shifts mental health conservatorships from District Attorney to City Attorney

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The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved legislation introduced by Supervisor London Breed transferring conservatorships from the District Attorney’s Office to the City Attorney’s Office. (Examiner file photo)

San Francisco is shifting legal responsibility from the District Attorney’s Office to the City Attorney’s Office for conservatorships to force the mentally ill or those suffering from substance use to seek treatment.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation introduced by Board of Supervisors president London Breed that shifts legal proceedings for conservatorships from the District Attorney’s Office to the City Attorney’s Office. The move is expected to build capacity for pursuing conservatorships while at the same time making clear mental health isn’t a criminal matter.

“These cases should be handled as civil cases, the same way we treat child and family law,” said Breed. Breed also supports a state bill that would expand the criteria under which The City could place people under conservatorships.

The City can obtain conservatorships for those who are “gravely ill” under existing state law. As of last month, The City’s Public Conservator had 577 people under mental health conservatorships, after they were initially admitted for psychiatric care through a 5150 72-hour emergency hold.

The District Attorney’s Office will continue to handle the conservatorship cases for people facing criminal charges.

The City Attorney expects to begin handling the new workload in January 2019 and will hire three new saffers for $717,874 annually, according to a report from the budget analyst.

While the board unanimously approved Breed’s conservatorship legislation Tuesday, last week the board split 6-5 on a resolution introduced by Breed to support State Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 1045, shy of the eight votes needed to pass. The bill would expand The City’s conservatorship powers to those who are chronically homeless and suffering from mental illness and substance use based on their frequent trips to emergency rooms, jail or 5150 holds.

Wiener’s bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 25. Opponents argue The City should focus on expanding resources like supportive housing and services before expanding the powers to take away someone’s civil liberties.

“It is no secret that our city is grappling with a severe mental health challenge and sadly we have many mentally ill individuals who cannot care for their own basic needs and need to be appointed a conservator to help them get the treatment and the shelter they need to get better,” Breed said Tuesday.

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