County votes to expand “Mental Evaluation Teams” and establish a Mental Health Triage Help Desk

To help prevent use-of-force incidents and improve outcomes for individuals with mental health issues, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas which seeks to expand the number of Mental Evaluation Teams (MET teams) from 10 to 23.

“Proactive and compassionate engagement that includes a mental health expert will reduce confrontations and provide access to treatment for individuals in crisis instead of incarceration,” said Supervisor Barger.  “Expanding this vital program will also help law enforcement in its effort to avoid use of deadly force, protect the public, save lives and money.”

“These MET teams provide a proven and effective approach in dealing with individuals suffering from mental illness,” said Supervisor and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It makes perfect sense that we expand this program to ensure success throughout the County.”

MET teams consist of a mental health clinician paired with a Sheriff’s Deputy who respond to emergency calls involving psychiatric crisis or critical incidents and provide immediate assistance to those in need.  Los Angeles County was the first in the nation to develop co-response teams as a pilot program in the early 1990s.  Since MET service began in January, 1993, the Department of Mental Health has partnered with 35 law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, to develop more than 80 co-response teams.

MET teams responded to 1,154 calls for service during FY2015-2016.  Of these calls, 64% resulted in hospitalizations for mental health treatment and less than 1% resulted in an arrest proving that these teams reduce adverse outcomes and prioritize treatment over incarceration.

Recent publicized reports describing confrontations between law enforcement personnel and individuals with untreated mental illness reveals the severity of the problem.  Although most interactions between law enforcement and those with mental illness end peacefully, it is estimated that 10% of law enforcement calls involve individuals who are mentally ill — and such interactions carry a high risk.  In situations where minor crimes are driven by mental illness, rather than criminal tendencies, diversion into treatment – including psychiatric hospitalization – is a more effective response.

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