A new crisis management team is poised to help San Francisco police officers better respond to those with drug- and alcohol-associated mental health issues, Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday.
In a room filled with police recruits at the San Francisco Police Academy, Lee — alongside acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin and Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia — announced the new team as part of an expansion of The City’s comprehensive crisis services.
The team of highly trained and credentialed mental health professionals will be on-call to support police in defusing potentially dangerous situations. The expanded services, the mayor explained, are part of a deepening collaboration between The City’s police and health departments.
Lee said the Crisis Intervention Specialist team is one of the biggest reform efforts in the history of the Police Department. He predicted the effort will serve as a model for other cities.
“The trend has been that there are more people who are [victims] of drug and alcohol abuse and will exhibit, in many occasions, a danger to themselves and others,” Lee said. “This is the latest reform that prioritizes the sanctity of life above all else.”
The new team will operate under the Health Department’s Comprehensive Crisis Services unit, which has three other similar teams, and possesses particular behavioral health expertise for dealing with critical drug abuse-related incidents.
“We recognize we’ve made tremendous gains in saving lives on our own,” Chaplin said. “But why not use a valuable resource that is made available to you? [We need] to make sure we have the right people, in the right place, at the right time.”
The Department of Public Health has been assisting the police in crisis situations for more than a decade, and police officers already receive specialized training to understand the inner workings of various crisis situations in order to create “time and space” for the crisis teams to intervene.
“This team will provide support for the police to ensure they do a better job of engaging [and] reducing harm to the individuals and make sure that they get the treatment they need,” said Garcia, the public health director.
This will augment the original crisis unit with three additional clinical psychologists and two social workers. They will help police negotiators and tactical teams to have access to specialized clinical knowledge.