SAN JOSE, CA. – City of San Jose leaders are seeking to make permanent a program that pairs mental health professionals with police officers. The unit tries to defuse what can be tense interactions and can lead to better outcomes for those who need help.
When the police are called in cases involving mental health – especially in circumstances that could be dangerous or violent – it’s not just a quick response that matters, but also how that response unfolds.
“We know that when we respond to someone with a mental health episode on the street, it can go very wrong very quickly if we don’t take the right approach,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Monday. .
That’s why Liccardo, in his final budget message to the San Jose City Council, wants to make permanent a program in which San Jose police officers work in a special unit called MCAT, or Mobile Crisis Assessment Team.
“Having a caring professional, who can be expected to really de-escalate the situation in a meaningful way, can be so critical to ensuring a safe outcome,” Liccardo said.
MCAT officers undergo specialized training and also wear different uniforms than regular street officers.
The partnership between SJPD and Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services was originally founded in October 2020 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Funding from the grant is now running out, so the mayor is asking council to approve four new permanent police officer positions to staff the team and increase the number of hours and days of work.
“It’s so important that that first person who reaches someone who has an episode of mental health is someone who doesn’t seem threatening, someone who doesn’t carry a gun and someone who doesn’t have a no badges and no uniforms. That can really help defuse the situation,” Liccardo said.
Sandra Hernandez, licensed social worker, is director of the Access and Crisis Services Division at the Santa Clara County Department of Behavioral Services.
She says the partnership model has been successful.
“We’re letting it be known that we’re not here to stop you, we’re here to help. We want to help you, we want to support you through the crisis you’re going through and we want to look for ways to divert you to something. that will make sense for you to feel better,” Hernandez said.
The mayor’s final budget message will have a public hearing at San Jose City Hall on Monday at 6 p.m. and will be put to a final vote at Tuesday’s regular city council meeting.