After 15 months of research, including out-of-state field trips to see what other cities and counties were doing, a slew of small and large meetings, and many, many hours of careful strategizing, on Wednesday afternoon, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey delivered a comprehensive plan to the LA County Board of Supervisors that, if fully implemented, could divert a significant percentage of LA’s mentally ill lawbreakers away from jail and into treatment centers in the community.
At the August 4 board of supervisors meeting, in two weeks, Lacey is scheduled to discuss the 41-page report (which WLA has obtained, and which is really more than 100 pages with its charts and appendixes). If the detailed road map that the report lays out is to succeed, it will require considerable funding from the supes—40 million of which has already been allocated.
A comprehensive program would mean, for example, greatly beefing up the number of community-based beds to house and treat mentally ill county residents, “particularly those with criminal records.” said the report. These are the nonviolent mentally ill, many of them homeless, some veterans, who would otherwise wind up in the county jail, often on a revolving door basis.
Lacey described the genuinely impressive report as “an unprecedented collaboration of stakeholders.” And, indeed, the LA County Criminal Justice Mental Health Advisory Board, which created the plan, and which was formed and chaired by Lacey, includes a wide array of law enforcement, mental health leaders, members of the judiciary, representatives of the public defenders’ office and many more.
“This is our first comprehensive attempt to fundamentally change the way we treat mentally ill people in Los Angeles County when they come into contact with law enforcement personnel,” Lacey said. “When implemented, these recommendations will provide treatment options to safely divert nonviolent mentally ill offenders from jail, which is more costly and, at times, inhumane.”
TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING
The roadmap created by Lacy’s task force features recommendations that fall primarily into three categories. The first of those, and the most important, according to the report’s authors, is to provide what is known as Critical Incident Training (CIT) for all Los Angeles County law enforcement personnel.
The training is designed both to help law enforcement become knowledgable and to have greater sensitivity to mental health issues—but also to supply cops with concrete, usable tools to interact “more effectively and compassionately” when they run across mentally ill persons in crisis in the field.
And how often do officers encounter the mentally ill? Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell estimates that, up to 40 percent of all the LASD’s use of force incidents in the field involve people who are mentally ill.
Accordingly the sheriff’s department is already planning to institute a six-year plan to train 5,355 patrol deputies in a 40-hour CIT course. (The report recommends to the Board of Supes that they fund this training—ASAP.)
The report also endorses plans by the District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Institute to provide a 16-hour version of the training for the 48 smaller police agencies in LA County.
In addition, the task force recommends increasing the number of specially trained teams, that include a mental healthcare clinician along with a law enforcement officer, that will co-deploy with other law enforcement to defuse potentially violent situations and to avoid escalation.
THE USE OF OFFICERS’ TIME
One of the problems facing law enforcement who encounter the mentally ill during the first 24-hours of a mental health crisis, explains the report, is that while it could take less than an hour to take a mentally ill individual to jail and book him or her, thus solving any public safety issue in the short term, if the officer instead takes his charge to a local hospital emergency room, which is usually the first step down the road to treatment, rather than lock-up, he could spend six to eight hours simply waiting—his patrol shift left uncovered. As a consequence, the report requests three more Urgent Care centers where a suspect can be immediately evaluated. (The county’s Department of Mental Health currently operates four Urgent Care Centers now with one more to open in October or November.)
THE JAIL POPULATION REDUCTION FACTOR
Lacey has been quick to say that the report delivered this week is “not a jail reduction plan. ” per se, insisting instead that if the need for mental health jails beds is reduced, it will enable serious and violent felony offenders who are not mentally ill, to serve a long percentage of their sentences.
Okay, fair enough.
However the newly constituted board of supes voted last month, 3 to 2, to put the breaks on the go-ahead for the $2 billion jail building project that was originally approved by the old board in May 2014. The new board wisely elected stop and assess just how many jail beds the county would really need, once such strategies as mental health diversion and possibly some kind of pre-trial release system, can be taken into account.
The board has even hired a consultant for a fee of $349,500 to help determine just how much the county can downsize its jail population—with mental health diversion such as Lacey’s report recommends—while also protecting public safety.
The consultants’ findings, like Jackie Lacey’s impressive new report, are due to be presented at the August 4 Board of Supervisors meeting.
So stay tuned.
PS: We just noticed that the Daily News, which also has obtained the report, has just kindly put up a copy online, in case you want to read the 100 plus pages for yourself.