Palo Alto police to pilot psychiatric-emergency team

Officer and mental health professional will respond to mental health calls

The Palo Alto Police Department will soon become the first in Santa Clara County to pair an officer and a mental health professional on the streets in an attempt to bring mental health services to persons in need and keep them out of jail.

Pending state review and approval early this year, the trained team of a police officer and a county behavioral-health-services clinician would travel together to mental health crisis calls to evaluate the situations and coordinate services for the person in need, said Toni Tullys, director of Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services.

The new Psychological Emergency Response Team, or PERT, will ramp up for three months and then pilot its services for three months, she said. If successful, the program could roll out to other law enforcement agencies throughout the county. The program has worked elsewhere in the state: Police and county behavioral-health professionals are hoping it will keep people from ending up in jail unnecessarily.

Last year, police in Palo Alto put more people in 72-hour psychiatric holds than in any year of the past decade: 243 people, up from 239 in 2015. Between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 27, 2015, officers placed 1,760 people in the holds, an average of 176 people per year, according to department records.

Although most Palo Alto police officers receive crisis-intervention training in addition to a state-mandated course, mental health professionals say there's a greater need for crisis teams that include a mental health professional. Police respond to many calls involving mental health issues, beyond those that end in the 72-hour or so-called "5150" holds, police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said. Many calls have a mental health aspect that isn't discovered until after the officer arrives, he added.

Some situations with mentally ill persons become deadly. On Dec. 25, 2015, officers fatally shot William Raff, a man with schizophrenia who charged at them carrying a table knife in downtown Palo Alto. The three officers involved were exonerated, but the tragedy highlighted the difficult situations that officers face.

A trained clinician could help the situation by accessing the person's history and assessing the situation, Tullys said. The mental health professional can find out if the person has had treatment in the past or has run out of medication, which might be contributing to the crisis -- information that police cannot access because officers cannot search medical records.

Perron said that pairing the officer with a county clinician is also cost-effective. If the person has committed a crime and is booked into county jail, the licensed clinician can speak with jail booking and psychology staff to line up needed services.

"Otherwise, the person would have to be re-diagnosed. They may not be forthright about the medications they are taking. This program helps them get the treatment they need. This is what we need to do to provide the best service," he said.

The pilot program will not cost the department any money; it will be funded through California's Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act. The project will focus on persons ages 18 to 25, but the team can also respond to calls involving people outside of that age bracket, he said.

A similar PERT team in San Mateo County launched in March 2015. Jason Albertson, a licensed clinical social worker with San Mateo County's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, said last year that the program has prevented potential tragedies. He and San Mateo County Det. Jim Coffman comprise the team.

When they arrived at a home where a man was having a crisis, he said by way of example, they were able to remove realistic-looking toy guns from the home.

"If an officer had come to that door and (the man) had displayed something that looks realistic, he could have been shot," Albertson said.

Albertson can spend three to four hours with the person in distress, helping them to develop a care plan -- medication renewals, finding a treatment program or sober housing -- that will hopefully prevent further police contact or escalating crises.

"That's not something police officers are trained to do or will have the time to do," Albertson said.

Tullys said the county was inspired by a successful PERT program in San Diego County, which launched in 1995. There, law enforcement has seen a steady rise in mental health calls for service. Between 2008 and 2014 San Diego County saw a 62.3 percent increase in dispatch calls for mental health-related cases, according to a San Diego County Board of Supervisors staff report. Without the teams, officers would be handling these cases in addition to their regular criminal case loads. San Diego now has PERT teams throughout the county.


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16 people like this
Posted by Charlotte
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 12, 2017 at 10:37 am

The meds can cause insanity too. Media fails as usual to mention this.

6 people like this
Posted by James S. Ferris
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2017 at 10:43 am

I have often wondered why police training doesn't say to prospective and present officers something that (perhaps naively, on my part) seems obvious to me. Did they really have to kill this man--couldn't they have shot him in the leg? Seems like abuse of power, murder in fact, to me.

31 people like this
Posted by John Jacobs
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 12, 2017 at 10:56 am

Bravo to the PAPD for piloting this program with SCC Mental Health. The police Crisis Intervention Teams have definitely been a step in the right direction, but having mental health professionals available to go out on police calls 24/7 increases the chances of getting help for folks who are in crisis, reducing the chances of unjust and costly incarcerations. This kind of program can only be successful, improving the lives of a very vulnerable population while saving taxpayers a ton of money in the long run.

1 person likes this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2017 at 11:09 am

Let me know if you need any helap

11 people like this
Posted by Great Idea!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Great Idea! is a registered user.

Glad to see PAPD going the extra mile. Thanks!

8 people like this
Posted by irina
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2017 at 4:45 pm

To late for my son. Hope it will help other parents. Do you know that schizophrenia strikes male s17 up and females 21 up most often. Your kid just turned 18 and there is nothing you can do. He is adult [portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by charles
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 12, 2017 at 8:54 pm

much needed

3 people like this
Posted by GmTuR
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 13, 2017 at 12:32 am

After the tragic killing of the young man at La Selva on Christmas Day 2015 many of us who have family members suffering with mental illness were stunned and terrified. We live in supposedly a progressive, educated community yet our police responded no better than any other American city's. There are many in Palo Alto who are or will suffer from psychosis. We should be the leaders in providing humane access to treatment when one of them has a crisis. When a Diabetic has a crisis they aren't at risk of being shot by Police! This program is a welcome step in the right direction, however, no one with a gun should be summoned when a person with a MEDICAL PROBLEM needs emergency care. Fine, have a Psychiatric clinician available to the police but like San Mateo County, Have a Clinical Only team available to call for families with a mental health crisis.

1 person likes this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2017 at 9:41 am

I volunteer. Let me know when needed. As I live down town I can get to most places

10 people like this
Posted by Aistin
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 13, 2017 at 9:59 am

A fantastic idea. As someone who works in the Mental Health field & also teaches non violent crisis prevention, it is very difficult to respond to any situation where the outcome is always successful. So many factors are involved including the immediade threat the person having the crisis is to themselves or others. I am delighted to hear that the Palo Alto Police Department continue to strive to train and educate all their personnel in dealing with all types of situations that they deal with, most times on a regular basis. It must be a complex and very tough job, hopefully this additional task force can ease the workload of the other departments and see a successful outcome. Well done PAPD.

6 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 13, 2017 at 11:29 am

It's great to hear of this progress. I imagine it took some real work to set this up!

I'd love to hear more about the San Mateo Clinical-only program, too. Perhaps a Weekly article on these various efforts?

6 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 13, 2017 at 9:27 pm

Well Done!!Thank you so much for making a team for people in crisis so they dont end up behind bars! When I grow up I want to work for the PAPD and help the community stay safe and respectful. The PAPD members are also really nice because every morning when I ride my bike to school there is a deputy(he loves his job...I can tell bevause he always has a smile on hos face) making sure everyone is safe and drives safe. Thank you again for keeping our neighborhoods and communities safe!

2 people like this
Posted by GmTur
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 15, 2017 at 10:27 pm

"FAST Team: Hours (9AM to 9PM)
650-371-7416 or 650-368-3178
FAST in San Mateo is designed to help families with mentally ill members who are residing at home. The FAST team provides early intervention and assessment and works with the family over a 2 to 3 month period. The Team provides counseling and help accessing all available San Mateo County Mental Health Resources and Services."

There are also Mobile crisis teams in SF and the East bay.

1 person likes this
Posted by concerned parent
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2017 at 8:01 am

As a resident of San Francisco and Mother of a bipolar daughter, I can attest that implementation and adequate resources are needed to make this program work. It did not work for my daughter in north San Diego because PERT is understaffed, police receive inadequate training for the many times they need to respond to mental health related calls, plus there are not adequate psychiatric beds available.
My daughter's situation was that nothing was done after four 911 calls. Even though requested, on only one call could a PERT member, the same member evaluated her a day or so after the first call and went with ppolice on the second call. For the last two calls, a requested PERT member was requested but not available. Even though it was over a month since a PERT team member had evaluated my daughter who easily qualified under grave disability having lost 40 pounds and weighing around 85 at most. I discussed the last 911 call with a supervising officer who instructed us to not call 911 again.
Fortunately, for us, we were able to get treatment in a French hospital. for 3 weeks and will be returning here for a partial hospital program. In France, a judge signed an order that she could only be released on condition that she receive partial hospitalization. Partial hospitalization options are far and few in CA:UCLA, Langley Porter, El Camino hospitals, probably a couple of others. Good luck with your PERT program.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Palo Verde School

on Sep 25, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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