The county's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) program, which partners police officers with a clinician for calls that involve people in mental health crises, is preparing to launch in Palo Alto before the end of this year. The county's Behavior Health Department has already hired the clinician who will work in Palo Alto, and the Police Department has identified the officer who will be partnering with the mental-health expert, police Captain April Wagner told the City Council's Policy and Services Committee on Tuesday.
Once the programs launches, the city will become one of just two county jurisdictions — along with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department — to employ a PERT team, according to a report from the office of City Manager Ed Shikada.
At the same time, the county also is looking to set up a separate program that would exclude police officers altogether from responding to some of the less urgent calls involving mental health. Known as Trusted Response Urgent Support Team (TRUST), the response program is modeled after the Cahoots program in Eugene, Oregon. The county plans to roll out mobile-response teams in Palo Alto as well as East San Jose and Gilroy in the beginning of next year. Unlike with PERT, this program would be administered by community-based organizations, said Palo Alto Deputy City Manager Chantal Gaines, who is spearheading the race and equity initiative.
The council committee lauded the latest developments in the city's effort to integrate mental health professionals into its emergency response. Council member Lydia Kou, who chairs the committee, called the new programs "very exciting."
"I kind of see we're there. I can actually feel it, whereas some time ago it was really far and didn't seem achievable," Kou said.
The committee's Tuesday discussion touched on a wide variety of elements that make up the city's initiative, which includes community conversations on race, improved data collection on police stops and demographic analysis of the city's own workforce. The council launched the initiative in response to widespread demonstrations after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.
But even as committee members celebrated staff's significant progress in on police reform, which also includes increasing the scope of the independent police auditor (see page XX) and revising the Police Department's use-of-force policies, they also acknowledged that the city still has plenty of work to do when it comes to fostering diversity and inclusion.
Council members pointed to a recent hate incident at Fuki Sushi restaurant in August that came to light after Menlo Park City Council member Ray Mueller posted on his Facebook page how a customer went on a rant and called a server "un-American" and asked her where she was born after being told that the restaurant did not accept cash.
Council member Greg Tanaka, who has attended numerous Stop Asian Hate rallies in recent months, said he has heard many stories from people who have faced discrimination. In many cases, including the Fuki Sushi incident, the offenders face no repercussions.
"I remember talking to the owner of the Fuki Sushi restaurant and she was incredibly disappointed with the inability for action to happen," Tanaka said.
The Police Department has reported seeing four hate crimes in the city over the past year, a number that Tanaka said does not comport with his experiences in talking to people at various Stop Asian Hate rallies in recent months. Hate incidents, he said, are "woefully unreported" in the city.
Tanaka suggested that Palo Alto explore a local law, which would allow the city to impose fines on residents who commit acts that are deemed to be hate incidents.
Council member Greer Stone supported the idea. He pointed to recent research showing a rise in hate incidents directed at Asian American residents. The organization Stop AAPI Hate reported 9,081 hate incidents between April 2020 and June 2021, with 63.7% of these cases consisting of verbal harassment and 13.7% involving physical assaults.
"We're seeing it here in the county, and we're seeing it here in Palo Alto," Stone said. "That is the issue that requires more immediate attention."
City Attorney Molly Stump warned that crafting a local law would would entail some legal risks, given constitutional protection of free speech. Despite that caveat, the committee unanimously recommended that the city move ahead with developing a "misdemeanor ordinance" and consider other methods to deter hateful speech.
This story contains 784 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.