As part of the ongoing national conversation around whether police are qualified to respond to mental health crises, several Milpitas City Councilmembers want to explore creating a city-wide mental health and substance abuse crisis line for residents to call instead of 911.
The idea was floated at Tuesday’s council meeting following a report from Acting Milpitas Police Department Chief Jared Hernandez on the MPD’s response to mental health calls. Excluding calls where a crime is committed, officers responded to 267 5150’s –– the California code for a temporary involuntary hold –– last year. In nearly 80 of those cases, the call was for someone who had needed assistance previously.
Because the number of repeat 5150 holds was so high, Hernandez says Milpitas needs to “start relying more on the county’s role in supporting these individuals.” The county-run Mobile Crisis Response Team assists the public and local police and assesses and intervenes during mental health emergencies.
But an evaluation by the police department last October found that the city was “underutilizing” its partnership with the county.
“We were calling them for the really, really severe situations where you have a barricaded person,” Hernandez said. “But we really weren’t collaborating with them much on the day-to-day stuff.”
The acting chief said the department has since started relying more on the county and its crisis response team.
Not everyone, however, wants to call 911 or have the police respond to mental health emergencies. While officers are required to take crisis training courses, critics say cops aren’t adequately trained to assist someone having a mental health crisis, and the presence of weapons could turn the situation deadly.
It was Councilwoman Karina Dominguez who suggested the city begin exploring the creation of a city crisis response number:
“What I’ve noticed in our city is if somebody is experiencing a breakdown, either needing assistance with substance abuse or a mental crisis, the only phone number that folks in Milpitas know to call is 911,” she said. “They don’t necessarily want to call 911 because they don’t want to criminalize the situation, but they don’t know where else to call.”
In Sacramento, state lawmakers are already exploring the same idea, following a federal mandate requiring the creation of a three-digit number for mental health emergencies. Under the proposed state law, people experiencing a mental health crisis could call or text 988, and mental health professionals –– not police –– would respond.
Hernandez says the city is still working out the details for implementation in Milpitas, but calls would still go through the department’s dispatch center.
“There is some work to be done on how we’re going to operationally do that,” he said. “They would send the call directly to some mental health professionals to triage the situation and figure out what the next steps were.”
Dominguez’s proposal garnered support from the remaining members of the council and could come back for discussion at a later date.