Several Bay Area cities to launch pilot program, pairing experts with police when responding to mental health emergencies

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Bay Area pilot program pairs police with mental health experts
Several Bay Area cities will soon have mental health experts on-hand to respond with police to mental health emergencies.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- In an effort to build a better Bay Area, several local cities will soon have mental health experts on-hand to respond with police to mental health emergencies.

Redwood City leaders, for example, are taking a good look at the future of policing in their area.

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Influenced by the massive demonstrations and the death of George Floyd, Mayor Diane Howard told ABC7 News she hopes the move to involve mental health experts shows residents are being heard.

"It came to be over the summer, with the death of George Floyd and cases around the country that were becoming world-renowned news. People who were dying and being murdered unnecessarily," Mayor Howard elaborated.

"The police were called into question throughout the United States. It didn't necessarily mean every department was a bad department, it just meant that it caused everyone to start questioning the role of the police department when it came to mental health issues. Could we be doing it better?"

Howard said that's when the city took action. She said Redwood City is working with San Mateo County and the cities of San Mateo and South San Francisco on a pilot program to provide mental health support when police encounter anyone experiencing a mental health crisis.

Howard says hundreds of residents have already come out to community conversations to offer input and discuss impact.

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"It was really hard to listen to, because some people have had very poor interactions with police in their past," she said. "When you hear these stories, it's heartbreaking because some of them could have been prevented. And it leaves a fear in that person that sticks with them for a long, long time. So I'm hoping that we can get past that."

San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Pastor Jethroe Moore II commended city leaders, and said the move is a step in the right direction.

"Let's see how it goes. Let's give it a chance," Pastor Moore told ABC7 News. "And then look at it. We can make a judgement after that if something else could be done different. But I just commend them wholeheartedly on the effort, and the attempt to try to do policing different."

Moore added, "A move like this is a move in the right direction, toward restoring some trust back in departments that are wanting to reach out and try a different way to serve the community."

VIDEO: Your Mental Health: A Bay Area Conversation

Watch ABC7's one-hour virtual town hall, "Your Mental Health: A Bay Area Conversation," with mental health experts, providing real solutions to help you make each day better.

Mayor Howard told ABC7 News, "We need our police department. But what role they play and what tools we give them is critical in order for them to be successful. And, I think that's what we're trying to examine now."

"It is always best for them to respond with someone who can actually help the situation," Moore added.

Howard said the next steps involve a study session and town hall on Oct. 5, where city leaders plan to discuss information collected from the previous community conversations. She said they plan to address where certain changes possibly could be made.

"Then at the end of October, we're going to go to a budget meeting. That's going to be big and heavy, because we're going to have to decide how to align our resources to do some of the things that the public would like to see us pursue," she said.

In the meantime, Howard said the city is looking at some best practices throughout California and the country.

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She mentioned her staff is looking at Berkeley, Burbank, San Diego, and Eugene, Oregon.

Howard said the city is also working with Stanford University.

"They're going to help us compile the information and come up with some guidelines and metrics to measure effectiveness of programs," she explained.

Howard said the city has been in contact with the Redwood City Police department.

"They're open to the conversation," she said. "Every officer in our department is willing to listen. We all recognize that some changes may need to be made. So, I'm really glad at this difficult time of pandemic, that people are willing to listen to each other and maybe make changes that may be a bit uncomfortable at first. But at the end, I hope they turn out to be really solid decisions we've made for the safety of our community."

ABC7 News reached out to the Redwood City Police Department, but was unable to connect for a scheduled interview. In an e-mail, Chief Dan Mulholland said, "I'm excited about the potential of this endeavor and feel it is a great collaboration opportunity with both the County of San Mateo and the Cities of San Mateo and South San Francisco."

Redwood City hopes to launch the program in early 2021.

Take a look at all of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos here.